The Importance of Reading Aloud
“If every child were read to daily from infancy,
it would revolutionize education in this country.”
— Richard W. Riley. U.S. Secretary of Education 1993-2001
In past generations, the practice of reading aloud was an enjoyable way for adults to expose children to the world of language and to model the skill – and pleasure – of reading. In addition, reading aloud represented an opportunity to share ideas, values and traditions and to provide a springboard for discussion of the important issues of life. Today, children are bombarded from every side with visual, auditory, and sensory stimuli that pull them further and further away from exposure to language as the medium of vivid, precise and nuanced communication.
Illiteracy puts people at a debilitating disadvantage in life, with low income, less access to social programs, and ultimate isolation. Corporations suffer as well, with fewer capable people in the workforce. Read-aloud programs across the country have proven that reading to children from birth establishes foundational literacy skills by:
- Improving listening comprehension
- Increasing vocabulary
- Providing fluency models
- Promoting conceptual understanding
- Lengthening attention spans
- Creating a positive attitude toward books and reading
Unfortunately, literacy rates continue to decline despite the dozens of literacy programs in place in the United States. These programs seek to fix an existing problem, targeting children who have lagged behind goals and expectations.
Reading to children for 15 minutes a day sounds simple, but the results are complex and permanent. Extensive research has shown that if children hear words for two minutes daily, they will have heard 180,000 words a year, and with five minutes that becomes over 350,000 words in a year. Young children can be read to at any age, even as infants, and will internalize the sounds of words with delight as long as the duration of reading coincides with a child’s natural attention span. 15 minutes a day is a small investment in time that yields substantial benefits for a lifetime – like a 401k vocabulary account for future literate success in life.
Reading aloud sharpens the imagination, creates healthy dialogue, and engenders in children a love of reading. Children who learn to listen eventually learn to read, and literacy skills provide the basis for a lifetime of learning and productivity. When children listen, they learn about their own lives and the stories of others around the globe.
In addition, reading to children strengthens the emotional bonds between the adult reader and the child, providing those positive parent-child connections essential to a child’s psychological health and academic growth.