10 Benefits of Reading Aloud to Your Children
One of the things we have enjoyed immensely and seen the most fruit from in our homeschooling journey is our read aloud time. Curling up with a book together as a family is something we all still do, even though the children are all older now. We don’t do it nearly as often, but it still remains a normal part of our lives. A good book provides a chance to stop, share the story and its emotions, and discuss it.
It wasn’t until I had my own children and began homeschooling them that I really learned the value of a good book. It’s funny I never learned that at school. Nurturing a family taught me to love books. I began reading the Bible to my children when they were in the womb, and it just developed from there. Now, most of them are in their twenties, and I can be a listener sometimes. Here are just some of the benefits I’ve seen bear fruit through reading to my children.
1. Advances them educationally and matures their ability to learn
Okay, so I’m going to start with what the ‘experts’ say about reading to children first. According to the Victorian Government’s paper Reading to Young Children: a Head Start in Life it has been shown that regardless of family, economic background or circumstances, reading to children who are learning to read can advance their educational outcomes by up to a year. It also impacts their future learning capabilities in both literacy and numeracy.
Yes, I can vouch for that. The first ‘real’ book I read to my first child at age 5 was Coral Island – cannibals and all. He loved it. But I think he just loved being with me, hearing my voice, and catching the enthusiasm (not about cannibals) and the comfort (regarding the cannibals). I believe it definitely helps a learning-to-read-child to hear how words are to be pronounced and expressed; to have a mature example of how to read well.
2. Provides a Good Model of Reading Fluency and Expression
Listening to a mature reader sets an example of what a capable reader is meant to sound like. It helps them get over stiltedness in their own reading, and apply correct emphasis to syllables and phrases. It teaches them how to pace their reading. This will not all come out at once; it’s something you have to continually do for it to build in your child’s mind.
If you’re teaching a child to read and becoming frustrated, take a break and just read to your child. Let him catch up and try again later.
3. Nurtures bonding and builds relationships
Sharing a story is great for connecting with your child. When you read together, you both enter into another world and share the journey. You can discuss ‘imaginary’ situations that may not be easily approachable in real life, opening up opportunities for teaching. It provides a chance to talk through situations and issues more indirectly.
4. Encourages emotional involvement
There have been many times when I become teary while reading a good book to my children, and times when I have had to read difficult things (like the antics of cannibals) that may be a little challenging for their sensitive ears. When you read to your children, be sure to check their faces for their emotions. Reading at home with their family, children are free to react and express their emotions in a safe environment. At other times, we’ve had to stop due to laughing fits.
When you read to your children, it gives them the chance to share your emotions and learn to respect others’.
5. Builds your child’s vocabulary
Some of you know what it is like to teach your older children how to write. Your child will learn more vocabulary from reading than from any vocabulary curriculum on the market. A broad vocabulary is the divider between good and bad writers. A child with a good vocabulary needs less teaching on what to write, and you can focus on the mechanics. Reading good books, largely consisting of classics and older literature will teach your child new words within a context; the meanings are not isolated as they would be if given in a list. Good vocabulary livens your child’s writing and conversation and allows them to engage on a higher level with more depth. Reading good literature is the best and least painful way to improve your child’s vocabulary.
6. Matures their understanding
Don’t be afraid to read above your child’s level of understanding, in fact I encourage you to do exactly that. We must credit children for understanding a lot more than we think they do. As a homeschooling parent you probably already know this. Children will take in what they do understand and tuck the rest into the back of their brain for later. Haven’t we all had the experience of hearing something from our child’s mouth and thinking, ‘Where on earth did that come from?’ Children will always take in new information (that’s called growing).
Keeping your children at a level you know they understand insults their intelligence and will not help them grow. It’s like buying the right size shoe and leaving no room to grow. Constantly bringing my children up to a new level bore more fruit than keeping them at an acceptable level. Challenge them, and they will meet the challenge. Anything they don’t understand, you can explain (they don’t have to put up their hand and wait).
Several years ago, when I read Huguenot Garden to all of my children including my three year old, I remember him begging me to keep reading a story he would not have attempted on his own for another five years had I not read it to him.
7. Develops your child’s imagination
Reading to your children helps your children to go to new places in their play, and it also allows you to control those scenarios since you choose the stories. As your children begin to imitate the different characters you have introduced them to, they begin to imagine more possibilities for the story. They develop critical thinking as they think about what they would do if they were someone else, and how that person would respond in a different scenario.
8. Improves attention span and listening skills
Reading to your child teaches them to listen to your voice and increases their ability to pay attention to you. They don’t need to sit still and do nothing else while you read to them – mine often played with Lego while I read to them. Listening is different to hearing and is important in learning to put others before themselves and for nurturing good relationships.
Reading and learning to narrate back measures your child’s comprehension not just of the facts of the story, but also the ideas and how they are worked out in the story. Reading on its own is not enough. Children advance a whole lot more when taught to ‘tell back’ what they hear – that’s the difference between hearing and listening. Listening involves engagement.
9. Teaches your child to read slowly
Speed reading is a great skill to have, but it often overshadows the equally important skill of reading slowly. Why read slowly? Once children have learned to read, they take off very quickly. Reading too fast can cause a child to miss things.
Two things are important when reading slowly: amount and pace. If you want to build anticipation and excitement to your read aloud times, limit how much you read at one sitting, e.g., perhaps just a chapter a day. Always stop at an exciting part and your child will beg you to read more. You must be strong, and teach them to wait! You can be sure of their attention next time you pick up the story.
Reading more slowly than you would when reading silently means your child must listen carefully, and also hears you articulate all the words (no skipping words). These two things combined will be sufficient for your child to digest the information without over load.
Reading slowly also encourages the reader to appreciate the language as well as the story. They will unconsciously take note of good expression.
10. Reading aloud provides lessons for narration and copywork
One of the gems I’ve discovered from reading aloud to my children is a collection of texts I can use for copywork, which can be used to teach a large chunk of English skills. I have used copywork to teach grammar and spelling, as well as handwriting practice.
You can aid your child’s retention by having them narrate back to you. You can read more on the benefits of narration here.
So, how do you do this reading aloud thing? We have a family read aloud going pretty much constantly. We choose something for history (and science sometimes), something for its literary value, a poetry book and something for fun. Sometimes it’s not always possible to have all these going at once, and at times it’s necessary to alternate. The key is variety.
Vary your genres
There’s no doubt that fiction is fun to read and takes you into worlds you wouldn’t imagine on your own, but a good biography or historical fiction takes you into another person’s reality. These two genres alone will give your children a superior education, so please do not leave them out of your reading aloud regime. Making connections between real people and real events teaches your children about the world, about how actions and ideas have consequences and impact; it teaches us why things happen. It’s no good learning a list of dates if you don’t understand what happened at the time.
Reserve time for your read aloud. I found the afternoons worked best for us. It helped motivate the children to get their work done, and we could all relax for the rest of the day. Some families like to start with their read aloud, over breakfast or snuggled up in bed before the day starts. Sit under a tree outside, or camp in the yard reading by torch light. Try to include dad in the read aloud time, or delegate it to him to do it if you are busy. Do what makes it special for your family.
But please, just to do it, you and your children will be well rewarded – I know the results.