Reading out loud is one of the best things you can do for your child (or any child you care for). Regularly sharing stories with your child is critical for helping him/her to develop strong literacy skills, a good vocabulary and a lively imagination (Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services). I think you’ll agree that most of us expect these sorts of benefits from reading but there are a wide variety of other benefits that are more unexpected, such as social-emotional skills. If you need some motivation to make reading out loud to your child a regular event, check out the benefits below.
The benefits of reading out loud to children
Reading out loud with young children on a regular basis stimulates their brains so they develop along ideal pathways (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014).
Early literacy and language skills
Multiple research efforts indicate that reading out loud to infants and preschool-aged children, from as young as two months of age (the research wasn’t conducted on children any younger than that), helps children acquire literacy skills, including emergent literacy skills, and allows children to develop better language skills by the time they start school (Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, DHHS, 2008; Duursma, Augustyn and Zuckerman, 2008; Wells, 1985; Adams, 1990; Sénéchal and LeFevre, 2002; Snow, Burns and Griffin, 1998; Whitehurst and Storch, 2001; Wasik, 2004; Teale, Sulzby and Sulzby, 1986; Whitehurst and Lonigan, 1998; AAP News, 2017). In addition, Payne, Whitehurst and Angell (1994) showed that children have better preschool language skills when they are read to at an earlier age. Interestingly, Tomopoulos et al. (2006) showed that these benefits aren’t just due to exposure to literature, they showed that the positive relationships that reading to children develop are vital for a child’s language and literacy development.
Getting a good start to literacy and language development is particularly important as research has consistently shown that the level of literacy skills a child has when they start school, and in the first two years of schooling, is often a good indicator of later reading success (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1997; Juel, 1988; Weitzman and Siegel, 1992; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2005). Unfortunately, a substantial proportion of children do not get this good start. The National Assessment of Education Progress (Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2010) revealed that 37% of U.S. children in grade four didn’t have sufficient basic levels of reading achievement. The latest edition (2016) of the international literacy assessment, Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS, Mullis et al., 2017), demonstrated that this lack of basic reading skills is widespread. For instance, while the study showed that worldwide literacy levels increased from 2011 to 2016, many countries still had disappointingly low percentages of children with literacy levels above the PIRLS low benchmark (e.g. South Africa = 22%, Saudi Arabia = 63%, Iran = 65%; the latter actually decreased from 2011 to 2016). In addition, 12 out of the 50 countries that participated in the study had average scores below the intermediate benchmark (the four benchmark levels are low, intermediate, high and advanced; Australia classes the intermediate benchmark as ‘proficient’). Alarmingly, 18% of students across the participating countries did not achieve the intermediate benchmark. Specific examples of countries and the percentages of students that failed to reach the intermediate benchmark include: England (14%); United States (17%); Germany (19%); Australia (19%); New Zealand (27%); France (28%); South Africa (92%). In accordance with the studies reference above, PIRLS 2016 also showed that early childhood reading activities may have an influence on reading achievement and that boys may be more strongly affected by less frequent reading activities that girls.
Encouragingly, children that have a positive experience with books develop better language skills regardless of the family’s education level and socioeconomic status (Raz and Bryant, 1990; Sticht, 1988).
Broader vocabulary and more complex sentence structure
Reading out loud to young children has been shown to broaden a child’s vocabulary and help them develop more complex sentence structure (Hoff-Ginsberg, 1991; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2005), including correct syntax and grammar (Cochran-Smith, 1984).
Interest in reading
As you probably expect, the more caregivers read out loud to children, the more interested they will be in reading later on. Interestingly Payne, Whitehurst and Angell (1994) showed that children are more interested in reading the earlier caregivers start reading out loud to them.
I think we all instinctively understand that there are genetic and environmental components to how well someone can read. In other words, your genes dictate how well you may eventually be able to read but your environment, how much you read and what you read etc., influences whether or not you achieve your reading potential. However, research has shown that reading out loud to children may be an epigenetic factor that affects later reading success (High et al., 2000; Mendelsohn et al., 2001). Epigenetic means that environmental factors can affect which genes are ‘turned on’ or ‘turned off’ effectively influencing one’s genetics so those two articles have shown that reading out loud to children may actually increase a child’s inherent reading ability.
Reading out loud to children isn’t just about reading the story itself. The conversations carers and children have and the play they engage in around books and stories also contributes to the benefits of reading. In particular, Neuman (1997) and Tomopoulos et al. (2006) showed that reading books out loud to children, talking to children about the stories and engaging in play related to the stories that were read all contributed to building a strong bond between the carer and child.
The positive relationships that result from reading to children have been shown to be crucial to a child’s social-emotional skill development (Tomopoulos et al., 2006)
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2014), more than one in three American children start school without the language and literacy skills required to learn to read. This is a worrying statistic as something as simple as regularly reading out loud to children doesn’t just promote language development, the emergent literacy skills developed by reading out loud to children also help prepare children for school (Ezell and Justice, 2005; Whitehurst and Storch, 2001; Snow, Burns and Griffin, 1998).
School and career success
How well a child reads by grade three has been shown to be the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success yet two thirds of American children fail to learn to read at an acceptable level by the end of grade three (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2014).
When caregivers read out loud to children, a whole raft of extra skills are imparted. Children learn how to hold a book and turn the pages, the importance of starting at the beginning of a book, that written words represent spoken ones and, eventually, to recognise letters (Bus, Van Ljzendoorn and Pellegrino, 1995; Teale, Sulzby and Ninio, 1986; Vivas, 1996). They also learn that stories have a beginning, middle and end (Cochran-Smith, 1984).
The range of benefits associated with reading out loud to kids is amazing. Check out some additional benefits listed in this infographic from Mom Loves Best.
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Reading with children starting in infancy gives lasting literacy boost. AAP News http://www.aappublications.org/news/2017/05/04/PASLiteracy050417
Adams, Marilyn Jager. 1998. Beginning to read : thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
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Cochran-Smith, Marilyn. 1989. The making of a reader. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
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