Why Read Aloud to Your Children?
“She came to me, crawled upon my lap dragging behind her a dog-eared book of pages smeared with . . . peanut butter, and suggested . . . , ‘Help me read it, Daddy; help me read it.’”—Dr. Clifford Schimmels, professor of education.
CHILDREN—they learn so quickly. Research shows that rapid brain development occurs in children younger than three years of age. Everyday parental activities such as reading, singing, and being affectionate can play a crucial role in a child’s healthy development. However, according to one study, only about half of all parents of children between the ages of two and eight read to their children daily. You may wonder, ‘Does reading to my child really make a difference?’
Engendering a Love of Reading
Experts suggest that the answer is yes. “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. This is especially so during the preschool years,” says the report Becoming a Nation of Readers.
While listening to stories read from a book, children learn at a young age that the letters on the page correspond to the words in our spoken vocabulary. They also become familiar with the language in books. “Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain. You could even call it a commercial, conditioning the child to associate books and print with pleasure,” notes one handbook on reading aloud. Parents who foster this love of books will cultivate in their children a lifelong desire to be readers.
Helping Them Understand the World Around Them
Parents who read aloud to their children can give a valuable gift—a knowledge of people, places, and things. With relatively little expense, they can “travel” the world through the pages of books. Consider the example of two-year-old Anthony, whose mother has read to him since birth. She says: “His first visit to the zoo was a journey of rediscovery.” Rediscovery? Yes, although Anthony was seeing zebras, lions, giraffes, and other animals in the flesh for the first time, he had already been introduced to these creatures.
His mother further explains: “Anthony has made joyful acquaintance with countless people, animals, objects and ideas, all between the covers of books, in his first two years of life.” Yes, reading aloud to children when they are young can contribute much to their understanding of the world in which they live.
Building a Close Relationship
During the formative years, young children develop attitudes that will influence their actions in the years to come. Parents thus need to lay the foundation for a close relationship marked by confidence, mutual respect, and understanding. Reading can be instrumental in this process.
When parents take the time to hold their children in their arms and read to them, the message is clear: “I love you.” Phoebe, a mother in Canada, said of reading to her son, now eight years old: “My husband and I feel that this has contributed greatly to Nathan’s feeling close to us. He is open with us and often tells us what he is feeling. It has created a special bond.”
Cindy has made it a habit to read aloud to her daughter since she was about a year old and alert enough to sit and listen for a minute or two. Has it been worth all the time and effort? Cindy observes: “The friendly, nonthreatening environment of reading together is often all that is needed to move Abigail to tell us about some incident at school or some problem with a friend. What parent isn’t eager for that response?” Assuredly, reading aloud can contribute to a close bond between parent and child.
Inculcating Important Life Skills
“Our children today ingest so much mental garbage, from television and other sources, that they need, more than ever, some mental nourishment, some clear thinking, some wisdom, some mental moorings that will help them live up to their values and see their lives in proper perspective,” says the book 3 Steps to a Strong Family. Parents are in the best position to provide a positive and wholesome influence.
Exposure to complex and well-structured sentences found in books can be a positive tool for teaching a child to express himself both in speaking and in writing. Dorothy Butler, author of Babies Need Books, says: “The quality of an individual’s thought will depend upon the quality of his language. Language is, indeed, in the center of the stage as far as learning and intelligence are concerned.” The ability to communicate well is the lifeblood of good relationships.
Reading from appropriate books can also reinforce good morals and values. Parents who read and reason with their children can help them to develop problem-solving skills. As Cindy read with her daughter Abigail, she carefully observed Abigail’s reaction to situations presented in stories. “As parents, we can learn more about subtle traits in her personality and hopefully help her head off improper thinking at a very early stage.” Indeed, reading aloud with children can educate both the mind and the heart.
Make Reading a Pleasure
Read “with a light touch,” keeping the atmosphere relaxed, informal, and enjoyable. Perceptive parents know when to stop reading. Lena says: “Sometimes Andrew, who is two years old, is very tired and doesn’t sit still for very long. We shorten our reading schedule to accommodate his mood. We don’t want Andrew to have any negative feelings about reading, so we don’t force it on him for longer than he can take.”
Reading aloud involves so much more than merely vocalizing what is printed. Know when to turn the page of a picture book so as to build suspense. Keep pace with the flow of the text. Voice modulation and sense stress can also contribute much to the story. The warmth in your voice can instill a feeling of security in your child.
The benefits are greatest when your child is an active participant. Pause periodically, and ask open-ended questions. Expand on your child’s answers by offering alternative possibilities.
Be Selective in Your Choice of Books
Perhaps the most important factor, though, is to choose good books. Doing so requires a little homework. Carefully screen books, and stick to those that have a positive or instructive message and a good moral to the story. Take a close look at the cover, the artwork, and the general style. Select books that are interesting to both parent and child. Often children will ask for the same story to be read again and again.
Parents the world over have especially appreciated My Book of Bible Stories.* It was designed for parents to read with their young children, and it can not only help children to become good readers but also stimulate their interest in the Bible.
Parents who read aloud to their children can engender in them good reading habits, which may bring meaningful results throughout life. JoAnne observed regarding her daughter: “Not only did Jennifer learn to read and write before going to school and acquire a love for reading but, more important, she has developed a love for our Grand Creator, Jehovah. Jennifer has learned to rely on his written Word, the Bible, to guide her in all her decisions.” Truly, what you help a child to love can be more important than what you help him or her to learn.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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When Reading to Your Child
• Begin when he or she is still an infant.
• Allow your child time to settle down to reading.
• Read stories you both like.
• Read as often as you can and with feeling.
• Involve your child by asking questions.
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Photograph taken at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo