My four-year-old granddaughter was visiting, and we were snuggled together on her bed, reading one of her favorite books. Reading aloud to a child is one of the things I love to do most. Reader and listener bond in a connection of understanding and expectancy. We make friends together and despise the same villains. We chuckle and sometimes laugh out loud.
As we read together, my cell phone interrupted our story.
“It’s Granddad. I should see what he needs.”
My granddaughter nodded, patiently waiting.
“Hi!” he said, “How is our girl? Have you been able to finish the work you said you need to get done?”
I replied, “Our girl is great! I am reading to her.”
“Oh, what about that deadline?”
“But I’m reading aloud to our granddaughter right now.”
“Hmmm…now I get it. You two are snuggled up together creating a closer bond. She is listening to your voice. You’re helping her build attention skills. She’s learning to visualize, and you’re adding to her vocabulary.” (I promise, he really said this.)
“Jerry,” I replied, “I’m reading to our granddaughter.
After a long pause, he said, “Right, just because it’s one of life’s joys you love best.”
He understood. He knew the practical reasons reading aloud is so important, but he also knew the heart of the matter.
Reading aloud to your children is one of the best things you can do for them, especially when they are young.
Jerry said it in a nutshell—the benefits of reading aloud to a child are numerous.
At birth, your infant’s brain is only about 25% the size of an adult’s brain. By one year of age, his brain has doubled in size, and at the end of his second year, his brain is 75% the size of an adult’s. A great deal is happening in the growing brain of a young child.
The earliest phases of brain maturation are possibly the most dramatic and important in the life of your child. Reading aloud to him plays a vital part in this growth.
- Your child learns about the world around him though his senses. The sense of touch not only teaches about hot and cold, rough and smooth, prickly and soft, it creates emotional attachments via appropriate snuggling, cuddling, and hugs and kisses. When you snuggle up together to read a book, you are giving your child much- needed love and security. But don’t worry if you have a Wiggly Willy who cannot sit still while you read. Give him something quiet to do, like sitting on a fitness ball or molding with play dough or clay, and let him listen as you read. You can get the hugs and snuggles in later.
- Make a stronger emotional connection with your child through the sound of your voice telling an interesting story. When the story is interesting to your child, he will want to listen to your voice, especially if you add inflection—cadence, rhythm, accent, and varying pitch. Hearing you speak and listening to you are not the same thing. Reading aloud to him will make your child want to listen when you speak.
- Attention skills are developed as a child listens while you read. When the content is appropriate to the child’s development and interesting to him, he will mentally focus on the story. The habit of attention forms as he actively listens for longer and longer periods of time, a slow progression according to his interest and development.
- As you habitually read aloud to your child, he will develop the ability to visualize what you are reading. Visualization is a vital skill required when learning to read and in building the social grace of empathy. The child who can visualize well before learning to read will better remember letters and sounds, as well as connecting words to meaning and understanding. Visualization skills also help a child learn to empathize, to put himself in the shoes of someone else.
- Experience has shown that children who are read to develop better vocabularies, and research confirms it. Vocabulary is caught by young children through stories read aloud and meaningful conversations rather than through flash cards and overt teaching.
- Children with better vocabularies have an easier time learning to read. Instead of focusing time and attention on the ABCs and learning to read with your preschooler, invest that time in reading quality books that are interesting to your child and developmentally appropriate. When the child is developmentally ready, these experiences make learning to read easier.
The heart of the matter is equally important.
When you show love by giving attention to your child as you enjoy a good story together, you build stronger relationships and lasting ties. We read aloud together even when our children were teens.