Benefits of Reading Aloud to Your Kids

Reading to me is as natural as breathing. I absolutely LOVE to read. I always have. My favorite childhood memories revolve around books and stories. I can remember being curled up in bed with my favorite book, unable to put it down even though it was way past my bedtime. I wasn’t allowed to stay up late on school nights so once the lights were off and my parents were in bed, I would bring my book out again and read under the covers using torchlight. My parents still tell me that’s what ruined my eyes! I was most content to sit in a corner and read and no amount of bribery would get me to go outside and play. (I was a bit extreme- please do take your kids out to play!)

I decided even before I was married that I wanted my kids to love reading too. But I learnt early on, looking at my friends and others around, that a love for reading did not come naturally. Especially in our Indian culture, books and reading are often associated with studies and studies are a synonym for “burden.” I knew I had to actively DO something to ensure my kids would develop a love for reading.

Research states that the unborn baby can hear from 28 weeks onwards. Babies begin to learn through the sounds they hear (for e.g. mother reading aloud, singing, talking) whilst in the womb. I began to read aloud to my unborn first child when I was in my final trimester. Mostly I read the Bible and sometimes other baby books I had been collecting. If you’re thinking that’s weird, trust me, it’s really not! I’m sure you talk to your unborn baby so why not read to them? After my daughter was born, I continued reading to her and even before she turned one she began to develop a love for books. The minute my husband walked through the door after work, she would bring book after book to him to read aloud. Today she is six years old and an avid reader. So, it’s up to you really. If you want your kids to read for pleasure, you must do it with them and show them how. Emilie Buchwald rightly said, “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents.”

Reading aloud to your kids has numerous benefits. There is plenty of research on the academic importance of reading to our children. I’m sure you can do an Internet search and find hundreds of articles talking about this very thing. But I’m here to share with you practical points from our family’s perspective- the reasons we are huge read-aloud advocates.

So, here are seven of the most important (according to us) benefits of reading to your kids.

Fosters Discipleship

Jesus was the greatest story-teller of all time. He enjoyed making His point and sharing important truths using stories or parables. And we know there was a reason God got people to record and write down His divine words for us to read. Words are important to God. Romans 10:17 says,“ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” How can we disciple our kids in the Word of God? How can we build up their little faith? By reading the Bible to them. By reading to them faith-based books about God, the gospel, stories of missionaries, and heroes of faith. Reading such books aloud to them tends to their growing faith, helps them understand the gospel, and encourages them to ask you questions as you read together. We cannot delegate our children’s discipleship to pastors or Sunday school teachers. We must take responsibility for it.  Of course, no amount of reading-aloud or discipleship can guarantee your child’s salvation, but it would definitely set them up for success for the future.

Teaches Self-control

How can reading aloud to a child teach her self-control, you may ask? Well, let me explain. When I said earlier that my little girl began to love books as early as one, I didn’t mean she always wanted to sit through as we read all the words on each page. Sometimes she was fidgety, sometimes she wanted to just flip through pages, but mostly she was just happy to tear them!! (That’s why use board books for your little ones!) And that’s fine, she was meant to do that. After all she was just a child. However, we did use some of these opportunities to teach her to sit still and wait till the book was done. Now, I definitely wasn’t expecting her to sit still through a Bible reading or even a long children’s book. We used age appropriate books and we sat her on our lap and we read to her. If she wanted to get off, we would encourage her to “wait for a minute”, to see what was on the next page. All this put together took less than 5 minutes. But we did it every day without fail and slowly and steadily her limit to sit still increased from 2 to 5 minutes and then 10, 15, 20 minutes. It didn’t happen in a day. Consistency is key.

Cultivates Imagination and Creativity

Children listen to stories and are able to visualize what they are hearing in their minds. They can picture scenes and situations that they may not have personally experienced. They are then able to connect those scenes to their real life experiences. Let’s say you are reading about Winnie the Pooh and his honey pot. In their mind they begin to visualize what the honey pot would look like. The thought process that follows may be something like, “I like honey too, especially when I get to have it on my pancakes for Saturday breakfast.” This process of imagination and making visual associations while listening to a story being read, is said to help children to transition sooner to independent reading of books without pictures.

Children who are read to are often more proficient at creating stories from their own imaginations. Imagination is the foundation of innovation. Without imagination people would never be able to come up with new ideas and innovations that enrich our society. Just think, just a few minutes of reading to your child can help him in both developing and engaging in magical and imaginative thinking! So, do it!

Develops Language Skill and Vocabulary

Language is how we communicate. Reading aloud is said to be the one activity that leads to greater language development. A study done in 2019, titled Reading to babies: Exploring the beginnings of Literacy, concluded that starting early can support the development of children’s language abilities and that the onset of shared reading seems to be a good and specific indicator of the overall Home Literacy Environment (HLE). Consequently, the study also concluded that parents should be encouraged to start reading to their children when they are very young—the sooner, the better.

The more we read to our kids, the more words they add to their vocabulary. As children listen to you read, they absorb numerous language skills. They assimilate proper word usage, pronunciation, and correct grammar. They begin to understand and form the appropriate sentence structure. They will start to use the ‘big’ words they hear when they speak to others. I remember my daughter standing on the balcony and telling my mother, “Oh I just felt a gust of wind!” She had just turned two then! We had been reading “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” the day before and that’s where she picked up the word ‘gust.’

In addition, reading to kids results in greater language development than merely speaking to them. This is because books contain newer and more diverse words than what we would normally use while speaking to our children. Through books they are exposed to a more captivating vocabulary than they are otherwise accustomed to hearing.

Encourages Bonding and Connection

Once my husband is back home from work, you can often find all four of us piled on the sofa, or the bed, or the floor with a book. With me reading to them all the time, the girls enjoy being read to by their daddy. They love the voices he gives each character and giggle along as he reads.

Reading is an excellent strategy to bond with our children. It’s a wonderful way to wind down after a long day. It gives us the opportunity to take a break from the busy day and just enjoy being together. An article published in 2008, titled Reading aloud to Children: The Evidence stated that reading supports a strong parent-child relationship. Children feel loved and safe when they are read to. They know they have your undivided attention. Sitting together reading as a family gives them the experience of physical as well as emotional closeness.

Improves Listening Skills

When children watch a video or a TV show they have the characters and scenery already presented to them. However, while listening to a book being read to them, they enjoy the experience of actively imagining the scene they are hearing about. It enables them to concentrate and really listen to the words without only focusing on the moving images as in a video.

Listening is an important skill that a child must acquire before he can read independently. When I have something I need to do without being interrupted I will sometimes put on a children’s audio Bible on Audible or Spotify for the kids to listen to and give them papers and pens to draw as they listen. It is an excellent alternative to screen time and they come up with some interesting drawings. Have a look!

Facilitates Discussion

Plain and simple reading aloud to your children is beneficial enough. However, when you press pause and add in a few discussions, it makes the experience even more enjoyable. It’s tempting to rush through the book and be done, but I would encourage you to take time to stop and talk. Ask a question. Share a related story. Make a joke. For example, while reading about the mountains and hills in “Heidi”, we may stop and remark, “Don’t the mountains remind you of Mussoorie? Remember our holiday there last year? It was so much fun!” That may lead to a short discussion about the wonderful memories of a holiday together. If you encounter a new word, you may stop and tell them what it means or encourage them to ask you when they don’t understand a word. This leads to a more inquisitive and engaged experience. When we relate what’s in between the pages of a book to the child’s own experience, it will keep the child entertained and interested in the book for a long time.

Reading aloud is not only beneficial for little children but also for older children who can read on their own. I was listening to a podcast recently by Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival. (If you haven’t heard of her, you really must check out her page and podcast.) A guest on her podcast said that a child’s receptive vocabulary (what he understands) may be as many as three years ahead of his expressive vocabulary (what he can say). A child’s reading level may not catch up to his listening level till about the eighth grade. This means we can read to our kids, books that include substantially higher vocabulary and language pattern than they can read independently. So ideally you should be reading to your older kids even if they don’t really “need” a grown-up to read to them.

If you can instill a love for reading at an early age, it will definitely lead to a commitment to lifelong learning. Children will associate books with happy memories and exciting, valuable experiences. It is highly probable that these children will continue to enjoy and practice reading throughout the rest of their lives.

Do you read aloud to your kids? If yes, great! If not, don’t worry, it’s never too late! You can begin today!

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    • Thank you Ravi Aunty! I know you’re a big advocate for reading too. I remember David and Hannah always had a book in hand when they were younger! 🙂

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