Reading is amazing! But did you know how you read aloud to your child can make a BIG difference to what they get out of the experience?
I have already covered why reading is so important to a child’s development and future success in life and why it’s so important to foster a love of reading from a young age.
All the time you spend reading with your children is important, however, not all reading methods were created equally!
In this post I’ll be looking at some of the scientifically proven best ways you should read aloud to your child to ensure that they develop into the greatest, most confident, and competent readers they possibly can be.
Listening to a Story Isn’t as Passive as You May Think
Reading alone can be a highly enjoyable and relaxing way to spend some of your free time time. However, as many young children do not possess the reading skills to enjoy a book completely by themselves, reading to them can be the only way many can access a wider variety of stories and texts.
Even with older children it’s still beneficial. I still have fond memories of my parents reading to me and my little sister before bed – even though I was able to read pretty well by then.
Children thoroughly immersed and focussed on a story is a wonderful sight to behold (especially when more fidgety children get so engrossed). At the school I work in we try to read at least one story to our class each day and often they will just all sit nicely – completely absorbed in the tale that is unfolding before them. They will laugh and make ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, some of the braver ones may call out what they think is going to happen next but most will just appear to be quiet listeners taking it all in.
An experience like this is really pleasant to be a part of, but even if the children appear to be listening passively there is a lot of brainwork taking place.
The child that is being read aloud to will be drawing upon their prior knowledge to gain understanding of what they are listening to. This can include:
- Using knowledge of previous stories they have listened to, to help them to understand what is happening.
- Making comparisons to other stories. How does this story differ from or relate to what they have heard before? ‘Hey, that’s like the other story which had a Big Bad Wolf in it’.
- They can also be forming internal questions – even if they do not voice them – and making predictions on what may happen next.
The Benefits of Reading Aloud to your Child
Reading aloud to your child can have massive benefits to their literacy learning and can really influence their future love of reading.
Reading aloud has been found to improve a child’s vocabulary knowledge and their reading comprehension, with the effects being greater in younger children. It has also recently been reported that children who are read a lot to at home can start school having heard around 1.4 million more words than those whose parents don’t read to them.
As children grow, their continuing interest in books and magazines is greater if they were read aloud to when they were younger.
It helps promote their speaking and listening skills which will help improve their language development. Noticeable differences in infant speech have between recorded between children that were read aloud to and those that were not.
It helps to improve their phonological awareness (understanding the sounds of their language and how they go together). Parents tend to emphasize rhyming words and patterns when reading aloud which helps children to absorb the sound and ‘feel’ of their native language; and a child’s knowledge of nursery rhymes at age 3 to 4 has been shown to make them better at detecting alliteration and rhyme at ages 4 to 7.
Reading aloud is also a wonderful shared experience. It’s a chance for parents and carers to spend some quality time and bond with their children. This can help your child to develop self esteem and to know that you are there for them.
Shared book reading can also form a part of a lovely bedtime routine and can help to comfort and calm your child, especially if it’s a story that they are familiar with and have heard before. We’ve got loads (lots of Julia Donaldson and Oliver Jeffers) of stories that we love to read to our little one before bedtime. They really help to calm him and let him know it’s almost time to enter the Land of Nod.
Strategies to Improve How You Read Aloud to Your Child
It’s beneficial whenever you read aloud to your child but there are some things you can do when you’re reading to them to improve their experience. We all want our children to be the best readers they can be, right?
So here are some things you can do to ensure your child gets the most out of being read to:
- Firstly, keep it fun. It shouldn’t be a chore. When children’s experiences with reading are pleasant, they are more likely to develop a lasting love of reading. Lot’s of energy; facial expressions; emotion; different voices for different characters; and varying the tempo and volume that you read all help to create an immersive storytelling experience.
I’ll let one of the masters show you how to do it:
Now, we can’t all expect to be as amazing at storytelling as the magnificent Michael Rosen but adding a little character to the reading can make a big difference.
- Ask questions. In Diversity in Adults’ Styles of Reading Books to Children, Reese et al. talk about the power of questioning whilst reading to improve understanding and to get the child to be an active participant in the read aloud experience. They provide a list of questions you could ask to really get your child thinking, such as:
- Labels – The labeling of colours, objects or animals – e.g. ‘What is this?’ or ‘What colour is her hat?’
- Picture Descriptions – Asking what is happening in the pictures – e.g. ‘What’s the man doing with the spade here?’
- Evaluations – Asking the child what they think of the story and if they like it.
- Inferences – Getting the child to predict what may happen next using reasoning – e.g. ‘What do you think the dog’s going to do with that bone? Why?’
- General Knowledge – Asking general questions about the story (can be counting or definitions) – e.g. ‘What’s a crocodile?’ or ‘How many ducks can you see?’
- Whole Book – Questions about the book or reading in general – e.g. ‘What’s this book called?’ or ‘How do we hold a book and turn the pages?’
- Personal Experience – Linking the story to things or experiences the child may know about – e.g. ‘Have you ever been to the zoo?’
Hopefully, by asking lots of questions you can ensure your child is engaged, actively thinking, and improve their understanding of the story they are hearing.
- Explain parts of the story to them and offer definitions as you go. One study in New Zealand, recorded vocabulary gains of 40% when the teacher offered definitions of new words they encountered as they read aloud to their class.
- Pointing out words as you read can really help younger children when it comes to learning to read. Pointing out capital letters and scanning from left to right, as well as showing what a letter and a word are, has been shown to help develop advanced reading skills as well as spelling and language comprehension.
- Encourage your child to read aloud with you. This would work especially well with your favourite rhyming books that you have read with them so many times they are starting to remember parts.
- Reread the same book many times – this is obviously linked to the above point as it will give them the confidence to join in and helps build fluency and a better understanding of rhythm and language.
- When they are confident with the story see if they can recite parts of it to you or someone else on their own. This will improve their confidence and help develop their memory and speaking skills.
Well, I hope that has helped to show why you should read aloud to your childand also given you some strategies which you can use during reading to complement and enhance the experience.
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If you would like to share anything about your reading experiences with your children or have any questions please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear them!
Let’s nurture those neurons!
References and Further ReadingClick here for references
- An Experimental Program for Teaching High Speed Word Recognition and Comprehension Skills
- Children’s experiences prior to first grade and success in beginning reading.
- Constructive Activity in Learning From Text
- Diversity in Adults’ Styles of Reading Books to Children
- Do maternal interaction and early language predict phonological awareness in 3-to 4-year-olds?
- Home and family influences on motivations for reading
- If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?
- Increasing young children’s contact with print during shared reading: longitudinal effects on literacy achievement
- Infant speech: Effect of systematic reading of stories
- Mutual peer tutoring: Effects of structuring tutorial interaction to scaffold peer learning.
- Reading aloud to children: the evidence
- Reading Instruction for Classroom and Clinic
- Rhymes, nursery rhymes, and reading in early childhood
- Should You Read Aloud To Your Children?
- The construction of literary understanding by first and second graders in oral response to picture storybook read-alouds
- The effect of a program of reading aloud to middle grade children in the inner city
- The effect of background knowledge on young children’s comprehension of explicit and implicit information
- Vocabulary acquisition from listening to stories
- When Children Are Not Read to at Home: The Million Word Gap