The importance of reading to children

Many of us are fortunate enough to have fond childhood memories of reading time with our parents. There was something special about choosing a book and turning the pages while your parents read to you. Sometimes, you might interrupt them by asking questions about the story or you might discuss the themes afterwards.

Reading to children before they can speak has far-reaching benefits — it’s great for cognitive development and is the perfect way for parents to introduce sounds, words and other aspects of language. Fostering literacy skills early on will set a child up for success in learning and is a key part of parent-child bonding.

The 2019 Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report states that read-aloud time between parents and children are ‘a highly interactive experience — it’s a partnership. Children choose books, kids and parents ask questions of each other, turn pages and punctuate the experience with sound effects.’

The same report found that read-aloud time with children peaks at age five. While 95 per cent of parents believe that read-aloud time is very important for children aged 6–8, this drops to 60 per cent for children aged 9–11. This decline corresponds with the age in which children learn to read on their own.

It’s not surprising that read-aloud time drops off when children start learning to read, as the focus is moved to developing their own skills in reading. However, learning by listening is an important part of nurturing these skills.  When parents read aloud, they are modelling language, inflection, how punctuation dictates the flow and pace of reading, and what to do when you come to a word that is hard to pronounce.

Christine, a teacher and mother of two, loves nothing more than curling up on the couch with her daughters and reading a book together. As her children get older, she expects this routine will change from picture books to longer stories, but she hopes it will continue well into their childhood.

 ‘While it’s important for older children to practise reading aloud at home after school, bedtime stories still have their place,’ Christine says. ‘It opens you up to reading more complex material together and you can learn about subjects that might be too difficult for kids to learn on their own — not to mention helping to develop essential skills like empathy and broadening their vocabulary.’

As an English teacher, Christine sees the benefits of reading in the home translating into the classroom and helps create good habits that will set them up for success even in secondary school. ‘Reading at home is really important,’ Christine says. ‘In secondary school, the kids who don’t read materials at home often fall behind — a good reading practice is vital to keeping up in class.’

 

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