I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book. -J.K. Rowling
Books really can take you to such magical places. Whether fiction or non-fiction, fantasy or real-life, books tend to steal a place in our hearts. But, reading books is even more than entertainment! Reading aloud books can also have almost-magical benefits on children, like J.K. Rowling. Here are several reasons why it’s important to read aloud with children:
The Science of Reading Aloud: Pre-Reading and Reading Skills
I asked several moms for their thoughts on reading aloud to their children. One mom said that she loves reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?” It is so repetitive that her toddler now pretends to read it aloud because she basically has it memorized. Not only is this cute, but it’s also great because she’s practicing reading. Research has shown that reading books aloud can help children learn pre-reading skills.¹ Among other skills, this means that kids learn to start recognizing that the symbols represent sounds and words. They learn that words are put together to tell a story. They learn what it sounds like to read a book and how to start at the beginning and turn the page, etc.
Before kids can read for themselves, reading aloud together can also help children’s spoken language skills. It exposes them to a larger variety of words than we typically speak in an average day. Reading aloud helps children do better on language tests in school later on.¹ Having story time together helps prepare kids for more formal schooling.
Reading Aloud Helps Current Readers
Of course, reading aloud helps with current skills as well. Another mom noticed that her kids seem to do better in school when they are reading more complex books. Obviously, it continues to increase their vocabulary. You can talk about books to increase comprehension. As the old adage goes: you first learn to read and then read to learn. Like Dr. Seuss said,
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.
Reading Aloud Gets Kids Excited to Read
Another mom said that her children love to read now because she read to them when they were younger. Of course this isn’t always the case-my mom will attest to that regarding my brothers. But, research has shown that when you begin reading aloud to kids early, they will be more likely to enjoy reading when they are older.¹ Having story time can make reading exciting and fun; it makes reading more enjoyable.
Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud. From birth! -Mem Fox
I love what Rebecca Bellingham says in her TEDx talk.² When we read to kids, we give them access to the reading party. We do the decoding work for them. It allows children to use brain space to just sit and enjoy the reading. They can imagine the story to the fullest extent and learn new information rather than focusing on sounding out words or trying to translate the words’ meanings. Reading to children gives them an easier way to learn that books can be enjoyable instead of reading being just another hard skill to learn. It makes it exciting for them. This could mean that children become more motivated to learn to read better so they can unlock more stories by themselves.
Reading Together is Great Bonding Time
Spending time reading together can help build bonding and build closeness. One mom said that whenever she and her kids need a break because they’re upset or cranky, she likes to cuddle with them and read a couple books. This is often the “reset” button that they need. I cannot say enough how important it is to build fun memories with your kids and set aside your to-do list for a few minutes to be with them. I have found one of my favorite parts of the day is putting my little girl to sleep. Our routine includes reading stories together, and it’s so special to hold her and explore stories in books together. Nothing else is competing for my attention and I get to simply be with her.
Another family read books all through their children’s high school years. The commenter said she still loved reading with her mom and sister in high school. There is never an age-limit limit to reading out loud. Books may change from “Go Dog, Go” to “Harry Potter,” but the time spent enjoying each other and the story is the same.
The Power of Stories in Forming Self-Narratives
Knowing family stories is important; when children spend time with their parents reading then not only can they learn the literary story, but they can learn and create narratives of family stories as well. As the authors of “Reading Aloud to Children: The Evidence” wrote:
“Children not only acquire knowledge about narratives but also learn about their own personal narrative when sharing a book with an adult, something that is important for their self-esteem” (p. 555).
Get Creative and Fun While Reading Aloud
There are so many fun things you can do when reading books to your kids to make it special. One grandma has great memories with her kids that all started from books. One of her children built a secret garden after reading the book. Another child made “pixie dust” for a sibling during her love of “Peter Pan.”
You don’t have to be a talented vocalist or actor in order to read in an enjoyable way to kids. Rebecca Bellingham said that when you are engaged in the book then it’s contagious and kids will become engaged as well. She suggested that maybe you take a moment to get the characters’ voices in your head and speak in different voices. Or maybe you simply change the volume and speed of your speech in order to convey emotion. Whatever it is, she said reading aloud helps kids understand how the written word is meant to be read and helps them learn these literacy skills mentioned above.
Author and professor Mem Fox suggested that you, “Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.”³ However you decide to read aloud to read to your children, just remember it’s all about having fun and spending time together, and not being a perfect orator. She summed it all up by saying:
Please read aloud every day because you just adore being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do.
Books Offer Great Conversation Starters and Lessons
Great books can have a powerful impact on our lives. I know I have personally been moved by several books, and the themes in them give me much food for thoughts. I’ve learned about racism in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and strength and faith in “The Hiding Place.” I’ve also learned much from kid books. I learned about loving life and loving people from “Anne of Green Gables.”
When we love a book, we become invested in the characters and enter their world. We often start empathizing with the characters and drawing parallels to our own life. We imagine what it is like to walk in the character’s shoes. We can learn important life lessons from characters going through hard historical events or learning through their own crazy adventures. We might learn that even great people get ridiculed sometimes or that it is more important to do the right thing than do the popular thing. Start building up a diverse reading list, as Amy Joyce suggests, so that kids can learn about different ethnicities and cultures and history lessons.
Not only can we learn about characters’ lessons, but we can also start great conversations from books to help us in our own or our kids’ life challenges. For example, another mom commented that reading a book about a broken arm helped her toddler cope when she broke her arm. I personally have found that books offer a great springboard to work with clients in a therapeutic setting. If you’re interested, see a list of a few of my favorite books for anything ranging from dealing with parents’ divorce to anxiety.
Cheap Ways to Read and Finding Books
Of course, not all of our books need to be owned. I think several of our readers’ libraries would be worth thousands if not millions of dollars if we owned every book we loved or wanted to read. Other options are available to read free or cheap books.
I loved how one mom said that she probably has 60 children’s books checked out at any one time! How awesome! Another mom said that she likes to keep library books in the car for her child to read and they cycle through them periodically. I realize that not all city libraries will have many options, but several do.
Some book sites have weekly or monthly deals to check out. I love Amazon Kindle’s monthly book deals. Other families like to shop at local thrift stores to buy used books at a much discounted price. Slightly used books are almost always a lot cheaper than buying them new. And, although I sadly didn’t go to it, I saw a local used bookstore advertising on Facebook a day that every book was $1!
Help Children Find Books
Even when children can read on their own, continue to help them find new and exciting books to read. Amy Joyce points to research that shows that more kids have difficulty finding new books to read than the parents expect. If you’re out of ideas, your local Librarian can be a great resource. I personally love GoodReads because after you input a lot of books that you have enjoyed, it will start suggesting books that you might be interested in. Or, friends and neighbors might have children’s books suggestions that you might not have read.
We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts
Let us know in the comments what your favorite children’s books are. What special routines and traditions do you have with reading with your kids? Have you found other great ways to find cheap books?
¹Duursma, E., Augustyn, M. & Zucherman, B. (2008). Reading aloud to children: The evidence. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 93(7). Doi: 10.1136/adc.2006.106336 ·
²Bellingham, R. (2015). Why we should all be reading aloud to children. TEDx. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBuT2wdYtpM&app=desktop
³Fox, M. (2013). Ten read-aloud commandments. MemFox.com Retrieved from http://memfox.com/for-parents/for-parents-ten-read-aloud-commandments/
Joyce, A. (2017). Why it’s important to read aloud with your kids, and how to make it count. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2017/02/16/why-its-important-to-read-aloud-with-your-kids-and-how-to-make-it-count/?utm_term=.04e031aced44