Photo by Pratham Books
I recently finished The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, which has sold over one million copies. Amazing! This book furthered my passion for children's literature, and inspired me to begin a series on the importance of reading with our children.
Not that it's tough to excite me on this topic - as a former English major, I'm always looking for a good excuse to "talk" books. Being an avid reader myself, I hope my children grow to feel the same way. The Read-Aloud Handbook opened my eyes to even more benefits of reading aloud than those I knew before.
Here are a few of my thoughts and observations:
1. Reading aloud develops imagination. Don't you love watching children pretend to be story characters? At my house I regularly "visit" with Beauty and the Beast, the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, and Horton the Elephant - just to name a few.
When children watch television, it visually presents every image to them. But when hearing a story, listeners must mentally create many of the scenes. This is developmentally stimulating and nurtures a child's natural sense of creativity.
2. Listening to read-alouds increases a child's vocabulary. Many of our daily conversations use the same words again and again, but reading exposes our children to new language. Stopping to mention a new word's meaning as you read also helps. Don't feel pressured, though, to define every word - this ruins the story. Above all, we want our children to discover the pleasure of reading.
3. Along with vocabulary gains, children who are well-read become better writers. Children accustomed to seeing and hearing correct grammar and spelling are more likely to use written words properly. Being exposed to well-crafted sentences also aids children in translating their own thoughts onto paper.
Photo by Jeff Meyer
Research in The Read-Aloud Handbook states that the more printed materials (books, magazines, and newspapers) in a child's home, the higher his or her skills in reading, writing, and even math. So look for inexpensive ways to invest in books. Don't fill your bookshelves with "stuff" when you can stock your home with high-quality reading material.
4. Reading to our children teaches critical thinking skills. Teach your children morals without giving so many lectures. Help them learn how to think, instead of always telling them what to think. As we read, children discover what happens when characters make positive or negative choices. Someone once said that reading is a dress rehearsal for life. Through a well-crafted story we experience the good, the bad, and the ugly without any of the consequences. We get to learn from others' mistakes.
5. When we read to our children our relationship deepens.
Photo by Desirea Rodgers
I'm amazed by the conversations that arise with my three little ones during and after our reading sessions. Cuddling together with a book creates a safe place where children express their thoughts and even fears. I think this is what my 4-year-old meant when he said that reading together is a way to "take care of people."
Finally, remember that reading aloud isn't only for preschoolers or children who aren't yet fluent readers. It is important for any age. Our goal for our children should not only be reading ability, but reading longevity. We shouldn't really care if our children can read at age four - it's more important that they're still reading at age 24.
Next week I'll continue this series and discuss more about reading with children. Until then, pick up a few extra books, snuggle with the little person you love, and enjoy.
(What's your favorite aspect about reading to your children? Do you see other benefits to reading aloud?)