Ask any teacher what they have done to help their own child be successful in school and they will tell you about the power of reading aloud. For we educators know firsthand, the glaring difference between a child who enters our classroom and has been read to compared to one who has not.
As a parent and educator, I gladly share the importance of reading aloud as I strongly believe reading aloud to your child is the single most important thing you can do as your child’s first and most important teacher to help your child succeed not only in school, but life. Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was right, when he said “The more you read, the more you know, the more you know, the more places you’ll go!” Research tells us this is so true. For the more you read and the more you know the longer you will also stay in school, earn diplomas and degrees and have endless opportunities. We know the opposite is true.
So, when should you start reading to your child?
Now! First and second grade is the perfect time. Even from the moment your child was born they could recognize your voice. When you talked and when you read to your child your voice soothed them and continues to. With this they also recognize sounds. In the first months and even to know, these sounds and words serve to create a bond between parent and child.
When should you stop reading to your child?
Never. As your child grows from a newborn to a toddler, to a preschooler, to a kindergartner, first grader and beyond, never stop reading aloud to your child. You are giving your child the gift of words at a time when the brain needs it most!
Not only does research indicate that reading aloud to children substantially improves their reading skills, as well as their written, oral, and auditory, in addition, children who hear stories read aloud have an increased positive attitude towards reading more so than those who do not hear stories read aloud (Jim Trelease, “Read Aloud Handbook”).
In other words, children who are read aloud to not only enjoy reading, but become readers themselves. And as researchers have seen in children across the world, including all social classes, kids who read the most, read the best and achieve highest.
In 1985, the U.S Department of Education declared in its report “Becoming a Nation of Readers,” these key important findings. First, the single-most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. Second, reading aloud is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.
As a classroom teacher many parents I knew thought that when a child begins to read independently, they no longer need to read aloud. But this is also not true. “Read aloud now and never stop!” This is the message I give now.
Kathy Collins, author of “Growing Readers and Reading for Real,” and a leading expert in teaching reading agrees. “Never stop reading to your kids – read to them as long as you can, as long as they’ll listen, even longer!”
She also recommends that every parent read “Reading Magic,” by Mem Fox and reminds us to think of reading aloud not only as a time for parents to provide their child with an advantage, but view it mostly as a precious time of focused attention and warm interaction with their children.
As a parent of a 4 and 2 year old, it was easier to read aloud to them. I treasured that they brought me dozens of books each day and begged to read just “one more” each night before bed. I dreaded the moment when they said “enough.”
Now with a 8 and 10 year old, they read constantly by themselves. However, they still beg for me to read aloud to them and I still enjoy it. My 10 year old and I are reading the book, “Wishtree” right now and the conversations we can have together and the time spent together I treasure.
Jim Brozina knows the moment all too well. When his oldest daughter was in fourth grade she decided she had “enough” of her father reading aloud to her. Brozina, an elementary school librarian, knew the importance of reading aloud and couldn’t let this happen when his youngest daughter grew older.
So, he proposed, “The Streak” to read aloud 100 nights. The 100 nights turned into 1,000 and pretty soon he had read aloud to her every day until she went off to college. Their little “streak” created a lifelong reader, a graduate with honors, and an everlasting father-daughter relationship.
The decline of older students’ recreational reading coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading to them. By 12th grade, only 19 percent read for pleasure. What would happen if we just kept reading to our children? We didn’t allow them to say no. Not only would there be great academic gains made, but think of all the topics that might be brought up, the conversations that would be had, feeling and thoughts you might hear from your possibly closed-off teenager, the many parent-child bonds that would be strengthened.
Just because our child can’t sit on our lap anymore, does that mean they no longer have to brush their teeth, wear their seat belt, eat dinner at the family table? No, so why would we allow them to no longer listen as we read aloud to them when we know the great benefits.
Yes, our read aloud choices will most likely change as our child grows from board books, to children’s picture books, to poetry, an interesting article in the newspaper, or an age-appropriate paperback. But we should never stop reading aloud.
Possibly if we continued to read aloud to our upper elementary children, our “tweens,” our teens, yes, even our high school aged children, our children would continue to choose to read as well. As a teacher and as a parent, I think about this quote all the time by Lucy Calkins, founder and director of the Reading and Writing Project at the Teachers College at Columbia University. She said, “The crisis in America is not that kids can’t read, it is that they choose not to.”
Every time we read aloud to our children, whether they are infants or 15 years old, we are sending a very important message. We are showing that reading is not only important, but joyful and entertaining. In my classroom, whenever I felt that the excitement for reading is fading a little, there is nothing like a good read-aloud to bring the joy back! We can do this at home, too.
I believe parents must enjoy these read-aloud experiences and look forward to this time just as much as our children. Instead of always giving our children the choice, we can also be choosing books that we want to read, that excite us, that changed how we thought or made us feel when we were young.
I don’t think I would be the same person today without the devoted and loyal Charlotte, the feisty and independent Pippi Longstocking, and the passionate and strong willed Jo March. I have enjoyed sharing these childhood favorites with my own children. It is like introducing them to bits of me, but also watching them as they find their own favorites that challenge their thinking, change their ideas, and help them form new ideas about themselves, the world and people around them.
You are the first and most important teacher in your child’s life. In some ways, you are also the co-author of your child’s life. You write the beginning of your child’s story by reading aloud to them from day one. You create the setting by providing your child with the three “B’s”: Books, Bathroom (books in the bathroom), and a Bed Lamp (Jim Trelease, “Read Aloud Handbook”) and a TV out of the bedroom.
You set the tone by modeling your own reading life, making time for reading, providing a quiet environment free of distractions, continuing to read aloud, and remembering to enjoy every minute of it. In doing so, you make a huge difference in how the story goes for your child. As your child’s first and most important teacher, read aloud to your child from the very beginning and never stop, so your child may have a happily ever after ending.