If your days are anything like mine, they begin before the sun cracks the horizon. You do All. The. Things. Finally, you fall into bed exhausted at night. After a long day, it’s easy to just skip story time with the kids and put everyone to bed. I get it. But here are five reasons to read to your children, even if they have to wake you up before you finish the final page.
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Reading to your Children Creates Bonding Time
Sharing a great story with your kids is a chance to cuddle up and focus on each other. For that time, there are no distractions between you and your child. It’s just the two of you, the characters, and the story. I’ve found that books provide an escape from everyday life that is even deeper than the aimless scroll through social media I resort to when I’m totally overwhelmed. So many kids’ books have themes that reach straight through the dirt pile of the day and grab readers right in the heart. Bonding with my kid over a powerful idea we found in a book takes me by the soul and gives me a nice cleansing shake. Laughing with my child over books about a strange little man in a cape and underwear makes both our bellies hurt in a good way.
A Reading Routine Builds Good Habits
When you take the time several days per week to read to your child, you show that YOU believe reading is important. Researchers and self-help gurus, such as Martha Beck, tell us that it only takes four days to change a habit or create a new one. Imagine if you make space in your day for reading from the time your child is an infant until the end of elementary school. As a result of your efforts, you will have created a reader for life!
Modeling Fluent Reading
Fluent reading simply means reading the correct words at an enjoyable speed—not too fast, not too slow. Adding silly voices and changing your tone also adds up when we are teaching fluency. The more often your children hear fluent reading modeled, the more likely they are to try to copy the sound of it as they “pretend” read and later when they learn to actually decode words.
Don’t worry if you weren’t the best reader in school or if you feel self-conscious reading aloud to others. Your child won’t notice and won’t care. They just want to hear the sound of your voice. As you read aloud more, you will become more comfortable and better at it. Reading aloud is like any skill—practice makes perfect!
Reading Aloud to Children Develops Comprehension
Comprehension basically means understanding what has been read. Children with good comprehension can not only answer questions stated directly in the story, but they can also answer “higher order thinking” questions. These are also called “inference” questions, where kids have to use clues to figure them out. Many of these questions start with “why” or “why do you think…?” Answers have to be backed up with evidence. As you can imagine, these are the trickiest questions that children have to answer on state reading tests as they get older.
The good news is this: those early read-aloud sessions give you a chance to get your child talking about stories. You can discuss issues motivating the characters. This will help your child make connections to his or her own experiences. For example, a character in a story may be working on honesty. You and your child can talk about how your own experiences are like those of the people in the story. This type of discussion helps kids develop higher order thinking. Since kids’ listening comprehension is often two years higher than their actual reading level, you can read aloud more complex books. You can choose stories with great discussion points. Bonus—if you pick the right books, you can be working on character education as well!
Building Vocabulary is One of the Most Important Reasons to Read to Your Children
Educational researchers have found that children who are regularly read and spoken to will hear over 45 million words by the age of four. Children who are not read to may hear around 13 million. That is a 32 million word gap for rising kindergartners. Why does this difference matter when little kids can’t read anyway?
It actually has a huge effect on kids learning to read. When children begin to decode words, they often rely on their background word knowledge. Let’s say they are reading a book and come across the word weather. They may have never seen the word in print before, but if they’ve heard it from conversations and read-alouds, they can figure it out using picture and context clues. Kids who don’t know the word to begin with won’t be able to guess it as they try to read.
Another word-building skill kids get from read-alouds is phonological awareness. This simply means kids understand the sounds of words and word parts. If children have heard nursery rhymes and rhyming books, they will have an easier time patterning words and spellings later on. Kids with good phonological awareness can break words apart and put them back together easily. These students have a much easier time learning to read. Children who haven’t been exposed to word play found in good children’s books may have a tougher time learning to read.
In short, there are many important reasons to read aloud to your children at least several days per week. By carving out twenty minutes for a story, you’re giving your child an important jump-start on literacy. You’re giving them new words, new ideas, and the most important commodity you have—your time.