March is National Reading Month and a great time for you to celebrate the benefits of reading to and with your child. Reading aloud can give the youngest listeners a head start in language development and reading readiness years before they attend school. Maintaining that commitment as children mature helps improve comprehension and expand vocabularies as they begin to read independently. For all ages, it’s a shared activity that enables bonding, encourages communication, and expands horizons. With a minimal investment of time, you can help your child develop a love of reading that will last a lifetime.
Helping your child become a lifelong reader starts at birth. Sharing a board book with your infant as you cuddle establishes reading as a fun and pleasant experience, but there’s so much more going on. “We know that babies begin to understand the rhythm of language by listening to stories and listening to language,” says Amy Cavalleri, Shasta Early Literacy Partnership (SELP) Coordinator. “Eventually, they begin to associate that words have meaning. As you’re sitting there reading books, they begin to associate the fact that letters combine together to sounds and words, and they start to understand what those words mean. So, it’s a whole building block for the child to begin to read themselves.”
Your child also gains benefits from the fact that we read differently than we speak. By sharing language with children in a different way, parents help small children expand their vocabularies. “When a parent or anyone reads with small children, the way that we read is different from how we talk. That helps children hear the sounds and words differently,” says Sarah Vantrease, assistant director of the Butte County Library. “Usually the vocabulary is different when parents are reading with children, so it’s an opportunity to talk about words they haven’t heard before or concepts they don’t know.”
As children learn about language and words, they start to make connections that enhance reading readiness. “Reading to your children fosters a love of listening and learning. It comes across when parents read to their younger children every night. It helps foster the idea of wanting to learn to read for yourself,” says Teresa Johnson, a librarian with Siskiyou County Library’s Etna Branch.
As children begin to read independently, they can benefit from reading aloud to their parents. These experiences help new readers develop confidence and practice oral reading skills in a supportive environment. “The importance of reading with your child 20 minutes a day is to develop that foundation. Then, as your child develops a love of reading, you’ll be able to assist him when there are things that he doesn’t understand or with subject matter that’s a little above his grasp,” says Anna Tracy, youth services supervisor for Shasta Public Libraries. “It’s a way for you to continue to support your child’s love of reading and curiosity about the world.”
While you’ll enjoy hearing your child read to you, don’t give up on reading to your child. Books offer opportunities to discuss social situations, character reactions and problem resolutions that apply to real life. Reading to older children also can help them enjoy books that might be above their reading levels. “Often, children can understand orally more than they can understand in the written word. Even if their reading skills aren’t at a level where they can read Oliver Twist by themselves, maybe they can understand the story and the plotline if an adult were to read it aloud to them,” Cavalleri says.
Some of the most significant benefits of reading with your child are tied to its value as quality time. In multi-child households, it’s a chance for parents to create purposeful connected time with each child. As a parent, you’ll encourage communication by making these types of focused experiences part of your daily routine. “With everyone’s busy lives, it’s important for parents and children to have one-on-one time together. By making the time to stop and read to your child, you can have that special time,” Johnson says.
By reading to and with your child, you’re sharing more than stories. You’re helping your child develop academically, intellectually and socially at all age levels.
If you’re looking for ideas to keep your child engaged, local libraries are a great resource, with a wide range of offerings from board books to e-books. Be sure to check out North State Parent magazine’s Going Places events calendar for library story times and book celebrations in your area.
You can find out more about reading to and with your child from these sources:
- The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
- Reading Magic, Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf
- Literacy Connections: Promoting Literacy and a Love for Reading: http://www.literacyconnections.com/readingaloud-php