Why Reading Aloud Is Not Just for Early Readers

Why Reading Aloud Is Not Just for Early Readers
Molly Ness, PhD

Reading aloud is undoubtedly one of the most important instructional activities to help children develop the fundamental skills and knowledge needed to become readers. Decades of research highlight the instructional benefits of read alouds for promoting a love of literature, fostering social interactions, and igniting a passion for lifelong reading habits (Reading Rockets, 2021). Home- and school-based read alouds increase children’s vocabulary, listening comprehension, story schema, background knowledge, word recognition skills, and cognitive development. A 2019 study (Kids and Family Reading Report) showed that reading one picture book a day provides young children with 78,000 words a year, and researchers estimate that incoming kindergarten children from literacy-rich homes hear a cumulative 1.4 million more words than children who never have storybook reading time (Logan, Justice, Chaparro-Moreno, 2019). Children who are read to are more likely to engage in independent reading (Ledger & Merga, 2018). 

Decades of research highlight the instructional benefits of read alouds for promoting a love of literature, fostering social interactions, and igniting a passion for lifelong reading habits.

In addition to these important academic benefits, reading aloud plays a critical role in promoting the rapid development of young children’s neural and auditory systems, as well as language and attention. A 2018 study (Mendelsohn et al., 2018) showed that very young children who engaged in home-based read alouds were less likely to display behavioral challenges like aggression, hyperactivity, and difficulty with attention. Reading aloud to children is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read aloud to their infants from birth. 

Very young children who engaged in home-based read alouds were less likely to display behavioral challenges like aggression, hyperactivity, and difficulty with attention. 

While reading aloud may be a ubiquitous part of early childhood, this important practice is much less common in the upper elementary and secondary school years. Whereas 90% of parents of children ages 6-8 report reading aloud five to seven times a week, that figure drops to 60% for children ages 9-11—a phenomenon often referred to as ‘the decline at nine’ (Kids and Family Reading Report, 2019). Often adults assume that because children are reading independently themselves, there is no longer a need for the read aloud. However, we never outgrow the benefits of a shared read aloud, and children (adults too!) of all ages benefit from a read aloud. As children enter the tween years, we must renew our commitment to reading aloud, and embrace innovative ways to breathe new life into a familiar habit.  

Here are some easy ideas on how to engage older children with read alouds: 

  • Encourage older siblings to share the responsibility of joining parents/caregivers in reading aloud to younger siblings.  

  • Embrace texts that are longer and introduce more complicated themes and storylines; though a child might be able to independently read, they might not be ready to independently tackle sophisticated texts. 

  • Reinvent the read aloud as a social interaction for older children. When COVID-19 hit, my multigenerational family did a daily read aloud of a Jason Reynolds middle school-level book. Additionally, my daughter saw me reading Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run memoir, so she read a kid-friendly version of similar content from the popular Who Is? series

Now more than ever, parents are vital partners in their children’s education. Though we may not have the skills and knowledge to assist our children with pre-algebra or the complexities of cell reception, we all have the ability to read aloud with our children. The academic, literacy, and socioemotional benefits of reading aloud to children may far outlast the stress and uncertainty of today’s world. 

 

Dr. Ness’ Favorite Read Aloud Resources