Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Reading aloud – the benefits and importance of reading to children

me reading

I treasure this picture. It came in a thank you letter sent to me by a child in year 1 after I’d read with his class. (He wisely decided to depict just five of the thirty children.) I love it that the book I was reading was clearly so exciting that it made me levitate!

I’ve very much enjoyed giving courses for early years practitioners, family learning workers and library staff recently on effective reading aloud. What a joy to explore the importance of reading with children and to identify ways to make the experience as enjoyable and engaging as possible.

Jim Trelease, in his seminal work The Read-Aloud Handbook, says ‘People would stand in line for days and pay hundreds of dollars if there were a pill that could do everything for a child that reading aloud does.’ Why? What are the benefits of reading to and with children? These are some very cogent ones:

  • enjoyment – here’s Trelease again: ‘Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain’, and what better reason for reading aloud could there be, plus we know that it’s the children who love books who become the ones who read the most, with knock-on effects for all their learning, and for their wellbeing.
  • speech and language development – children who are read to gain a feel for language and skills that aid their spoken communication.
  • vocabulary – great again in terms of oracy, and for literacy: the size of a child’s vocabulary in the early years, in particular their knowledge of unusual words, i.e. the types of words that are found in books but not often used in everyday language, is a good predictor of their reading ability at ten.
  • literacy skills and confidence – if children have been read to they understand how written language works, so much so that an American Academy of Pediatrics report says ‘Reading to babies and children helps immunise them against illiteracy.’
  • prediction skills – the books that we read with children often have pattern and predictability, and being able to work out what might happen next stands children in good stead when they are in the early stages of learning to read.
  • comprehension – the ability to understand is at least if not more important than the ability to decode, and being read to and having discussions about the text greatly improve comprehension skills.
  • wider learning – we know for example that children who have been read to tend to be better at maths, presumably because so many of the books we share in the early years have mathematical concepts such as size, shape, number.
  • knowledge of the wider world – there are so many things in books that children will never encounter in normal life.
  • imagination and creativity – early years practitioners tell me that they know which children have books shared with them at home because it shows in their artwork, in their play and in what they talk about.
  • brain development – in the words of children’s author and literacy expert Mem Fox ‘Reading aloud and talking about what we’re reading sharpens children’s brains.’
  • social and emotional development – the books we read with children help them understand themselves and others, building empathy, resilience and wellbeing.
  • concentration and listening skills – read books with children and you can almost see their attention spans grow.

Let me finish with Dr Seuss: ‘You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.’