What we learn in childhood is carved in stone.
What we learn as adults is carved in ice.
Jim Trelease used the above quote from poet David Kherdian to begin chapter 2 of his Read-Aloud Handbook. The first line is as good a reason as any for parents to read aloud to their children – from birth.
Unfortunately, that’s not happening as much as it ought to…
In a recent survey on Read-Aloud the percentage of parents who read to their children from birth had increased to 30%, up from 15% in 2015. That number is still way too low. In addition, it was noted that even though there was an increase in the number of parents reading to their children from birth, only 14% of parents spent at least 15 minutes reading with their children. This also is an increase (from 8%) but, again, still pathetically low. Sadly, the increase is not across the board when it comes to reading aloud to children.
• 2018 data shows a slight decrease, from 46% to 42%, in the frequency with which children ages 0-8 are being read aloud to every day. This decrease is driven mostly by parents of children ages 6-8. (Page 23)
• Only 30% (of total parents) say their child is currently read aloud to every day, for at least 15 minutes. This too is down slightly from 2016 (34%). (Page 24)
The survey catalogued reasons for the decline which included such things as,
- doing other things which are just as good as reading aloud
- the inability of the child to sit still long enough to read aloud
- parents don’t have time
- the child doesn’t like to be read to
- the child is read to at school, so they don’t need to be read to at home
I accept all those reasons (and the others given in the survey) as completely legitimate, unless the family (parents and children) spend at least 15 – 30 minutes a day watching TV.
THE IMPORTANCE OF READ ALOUD
What’s the big deal? What good is reading aloud, anyway. Back to Jim Trelease [emphasis added]…
The [1983 Commission on Reading, funded by the U.S. Department of Education] spent two years poring through thousands of research projects conducted in the previous quarter century, and in 1985 issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:
“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”
“It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.” The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud not only in the home but also in the classroom.
In their wording—“the single most important activity”—the experts were saying reading aloud was more important than work sheets, homework, book reports, and flash cards. One of the cheapest, simplest, and oldest tools of teaching was being promoted as a better tool than anything else in the home or classroom—and it’s so simple you don’t even need a high school diploma to do it.
In other words, 1) reading is one of the most important tools for children and 2) reading aloud is positively correlated with learning to read. Meanwhile, as the previously mentioned survey reveals, less than half of the parents of 0-8 year olds in the U.S. read aloud to their children.
Trelease explains why reading aloud helps children learn to read…
…in reading aloud, we also:
- build vocabulary
- condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
- create background knowledge
- provide a reading role model
- plant the desire to read
[For an in-depth study of why these points are important to reading see two series of blog posts by Russ Walsh. The first, an eleven part series on When Readers Struggle, which begins with Background Knowledge. The second, a four part series (so far) on Building Vocabulary which starts with an Overview.]
If language development, gaining background knowledge, instilling a desire to read, building literacy skills, and personal bonding aren’t enough to convince you that reading aloud is important…try these two…
Reading aloud to your children can help offset some effects of poverty [emphasis added].
The important fact is that parents who insert themselves most firmly into early literacy activities—participating in reading, conversation, and writing—and bring those activities into the home regularly provide the best academic foundation for their children. Parent involvement makes a greater difference than money. And children love to listen to books, especially when parents read, and the act of reading together promotes lifelong literacy because people enjoy it. It continues to be fun at any age, long after a child learns to read fluently. We all love a well-spun story.
[See also Reading aloud to children: the evidence]
The more a child is exposed to reading, the better they become at reading. As an elementary school reading specialist, I tried to help the parents of my students understand that reading was one of the most important skills learned in elementary school and quantity was important. Kids should read a LOT. As Jim Trelease wrote…
The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
Even as adults we recognize that reading is an important skill, which brings us to…
A LIFE-LONG LOVE OF READING
Adults who read continue to learn throughout their lives, are better informed, and live longer. Reading aloud to children helps them become life-long readers as this book review attests to. [Full disclosure: the “dad” in the review below, refers to me!]
As an adult I have realized that it is not just the books I read as a child, but those that were read aloud to me when I was little, that mean the most to me. They are the ones I have the strongest memories of and the ones that can evoke the strongest emotions. I never read My Side of the Mountain or Hatchet, but my 3rd grade teacher read them aloud to us, and I’ll never forget them. The Narnia books, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Ramona books, all the Roald Dahl books–my parents read them all to me, plus countless others, and these are the books that I remember most fondly. There is nothing better than sharing a story with someone. It was not unusual in my house to be reading a book and find certain passages were bracketed or had notes in the margin–my dad read aloud to all his classes, and would use these notes to guide his reading. When I read these books now as an adult, it’s not my own voice in my head that is narrating, but that of my parents. This adds an extra element of pleasure to rereading childhood favorites.
WHAT TO DO
Help your children live longer lives! Read to them from birth. Continue until they are at least 8 years old – longer if you can.
If you know someone with children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends and neighbors, let them know the value of reading to their children from birth.
Get books at the public library. Ask librarians for suggestions, or check out The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. You can find it at the library, get your own copy, or use an abridged version online.