Before television and video games, books were a primary source of pleasure for human beings. Beyond the simple good of reading books to oneself, there was the added pleasure of reading aloud, a once common family activity that yielded countless benefits, now all but lost to a generation that filters life through earbuds and touchscreens.
Furthermore, hearing is actually the most natural way of learning, wired into the human way of being from the beginning. Thus, reading with one’s children is an important educational tool, as well as an overlooked source of inspiration.
In light of that, here are five reasons to read aloud with your children, or five ways reading aloud will help your children for life.
1. Strengthen the Bond
First and possibly foremost, reading aloud will strengthen the bond you share with your child. Everybody knows the old saying, “the family that prays together stays together.” That may be almost as true for the families that read together. The hours whiled away in family story-time are hours of relative peace and harmony, where the children learn that simply being together is a valuable thing.
The father who reads to his children suddenly gains extra command over his children’s attention and affection because he is now the storyteller as well as the disciplinarian. The children used to listening for the great adventures read by their father will be that much more attuned to his voice when he speaks truth and wisdom, or demands virtue and excellence.
The mother who reads to her children becomes precious to them as the weaver of fairytales, as well as the provider of food and comfort. Children captivated by their mother’s gentle reading of treasured tales will turn to her with fondness for guidance and love even at those awkward stages when many children seem embarrassed even to have parents.
Most importantly, young men and women who have grown up within a read-aloud family will seek to perpetuate their happy experience of family life in their own futures.
2. Foster a Love of Literature
Reading aloud will foster a love of literature in your child. Children emulate their parents, and subconsciously learn to value the things they see their parents value. When fathers and mothers make a point of reading and reading aloud, children see that books are important, worthwhile, and to be cherished.
Not long ago, I heard a story from a family that loved reading-aloud. As the children grew up and moved away, they never lost their love for books. One boy had grown very fond of an antique Oxford dictionary the family had—the kind that is so big and heavy you can hardly lift it. That young man grew up and got married, and couldn’t have been more thrilled to find that his parents’ wedding gift was the battered old dictionary he had loved as a child.
Children who have grown up with stories being read to them learn that books can become good friends. Consequently, those who love books will never be alone; they will never be bored; they will never be at a loss, for even in hard times, they will know the comfort of books and the inspiration of the great ideas they have encountered therein.
3. Form the Imagination
Reading aloud will form your child’s moral imagination, that distinctly human ability to discern right order in what is presented to one. Children gain their foundational understanding of right and wrong from stories, whether Bible stories, saint stories, or fairy stories. From these stories, children also learn how to separate what is beautiful from what is ugly, what is wholesome from what is valueless, what is artistic from what is inept or banal, and what is substantial from what is frivolous.
Children who have grown up amidst vital, meaningful literature read by parents who are motivated to convey the truths of that literature will be better able to discern truth from error and make prudent choices regarding life’s decisions.
4. Expand Mental Borders
While establishing the boundaries of a moral imagination, reading aloud will simultaneously expand the borders of your child’s mind. Exposure to the great ideas, great characters, and great adventures of literature will foster an openness to new ideas as well as a creative approach to thinking that will serve your child well in problem-solving throughout life.
Furthermore, research indicates that people who have been exposed to good literature perform much better on interpersonal skills tests than those who have not. This means that children who have encountered good literature will be better able to relate to the people around them, to empathize with others, and interact more effectively in both work and social environments.
5. Increase Academic Skill
Reading aloud will increase academic skill in your child. Obviously, this is true regarding literary analysis and critical thinking. However, literature is not just for those who “major” in English. This might surprise you, but a college math professor once told me that if he had the freedom to manage his class as he wanted, he would open every session with 15 minutes of reading fairytales to his students. Why? This professor’s opinion was that an active imagination and the ability to think creatively are absolutely necessary to doing high level math, and that these skills are developed primarily by engaging with stories.
On another level, much of what a student does in education is communicate what he has learned, particularly in written compositions. Students raised in a read-aloud household have a stronger appreciation for the sound of words, which contributes to the value and meaning of a piece of writing. This frequently causes students to read their own writings out loud. The habit of reading aloud is extremely valuable because hearing one’s words often makes the difference between catching and missing errors, between developing good or even great or only mediocre writing skills, and between arguing convincingly or unconvincingly. The sound of words influences all of these aspects of composition. Good writing, therefore, greatly depends upon good reading out loud.
Not everyone is born a natural lover of reading, however, and as mentioned before, hearing is the first way people learn. Therefore, it is vital for parents to read out loud, so as to enhance their children’s learning, to encourage their children to read, and to provide those who don’t yet read or who read less with the same benefits open to the avid readers.
Reading aloud might be one of the most important things you ever do for your child. So, in case reading aloud isn’t currently a part of your family culture, I encourage you to give it a try. You might find the practice surprises you with its power for your children, both now and for their whole lives.
Mother & Daughter photo © SolisImages / Dollar Photo Club