The Gift of Reading Aloud to Your Kids

magical book Storytelling, as we saw a couple weeks back, can fire the imagination and open up new worlds to children. It does this whether you make up stories on the fly, as you might with a guided relaxation, or simply read to children from books.

It’s the exchange between storyteller and listener that makes the magic.

The Practical Benefits of Being Read To

Over the years, much research has been done on how being read to affects children’s development. The benefits go far beyond just nurturing literacy. For instance, a 2013 study in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that “reading to a child in an interactive style raises his or her IQ by over 6 points.” Meanwhile, data from Educational Testing Services shows that students who do more reading at home score better in math proficiency.

boy reading outdoorsAnd the earlier book time begins, the better. Research consistently shows that kids who are regularly read to at home start school better prepared than those who are read to seldom or not at all.

After all, even though our culture has become more image-driven than ever – “chatting” via emojis, gifs, and memes; video dominating text – literacy still matters. It’s the foundation for all other learning.

Reading, like storytelling in general, also stimulates and nurtures the kinds of soft skills businesses value more than ever in their new hires – things like communication, creativity, and overall emotional intelligence.

Some research even suggests that reading aloud can be a useful intervention for kids with autism in particular. One very small but intriguing study published last year in Topics in Early Childhood Special Education looked at the effect of regularly reading to children on the spectrum.

Following intervention, all four participating children decreased the frequency of incorrect responding and gradually improved their correct, spontaneous responding to fact- and inference-based questions about story content. In addition, three of the four participants increased the frequency of their initiations.

Reading Aloud – Even to Older Kids

While we think of reading aloud as something we do just with little ones, older kids benefit just as much from being read to. As Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, notes,

A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh grade books to fifth grade kids. They’ll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading.

A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read herself, and reading aloud is really going to hook her, because when you get to chapter books, you’re getting into the real meat of print — there is really complicated, serious stuff going on that kids are ready to hear and understand, even if they can’t read at that level yet.

Reading aloud to your kids is also are good way to grapple with difficult issues. For example, you can tell your child, “I don’t want you to hang out with so and so,” but that’s a lecture that will probably go in one ear and out the other. But if you read a book about a kid who gets in trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd, your child is going to experience that directly, and she’s going to experience it with you at her side, and you can talk about it together. You can ask questions like: “Do you think the boy made the right choice?” “Do you think that girl was really her friend?” When you talk about a book together, it’s not a lecture, it’s more like a coach looking at a film with his players, going over the plays to find out what went right and what went wrong.

All the while, reading is reinforced as something interesting, pleasurable, fun – not tied to schoolwork or anything obviously practical. It’s treated as an integral part of life and a source of wisdom and insight.

Stories Connect Us

father reading to daughterPerhaps one of the most underrated aspects of reading aloud with your child is the simple occasion to bond. The child who is read to feels valued and cared for through your gift of time and voice.

As we write this, Lynea is finishing work on the latest of her books for children, The Little Book of Healing – a gentle, lyrical walk through the ways grief can look and feel. Early experiences of loss can be hard, no matter who was lost – a relative, friend, or family pet. The tangle of emotions can be confusing. Routinely witnessing this in her work as a counselor, she knew that she needed to give children a story to help them through the process – and to give their caregivers a way to talk about the difficult emotions.

Stories connect us. In many ways.

Father/daughter image by Ldorfman, via Wikimedia Commons

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