Creative Child

The Value of Reading Aloud to Your Child

by Rebecca Eanes

It’s a time to celebrate and spur your child’s interest in reading and literacy. Reading aloud to your child every day is one very effective way to do just that! Unfortunately, more than half the children in this country will not hear a bedtime story tonight, according to the Read Aloud 15 Minutes Campaign. They are out to spread an important and powerful message – read aloud for at least 15 minutes to every child every day.

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Reading aloud provides key benefits that prepare children for reading and learning. The greatest amount of brain growth occurs between birth and age 5. By age 3, about 85% of the brain’s core structure is formed. In the first three years, infants and toddlers begin acquiring the first of thousands of words they will use throughout their lives. Just as a child develops language skills long before being able to speak, she also develops literacy skills long before being able to read. Given the course of brain development, it’s not surprising that young children who are read to become good readers later.


Dominic Massaro, professor emeritus in psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, studies language acquisition and literacy. He says that, while parents can build their children’s vocabularies by talking to them (which Stanford research has shown) but reading aloud to them is more effective. He asserts that reading aloud is actually the best way to children develop word mastery and grammatical understanding which is what forms the basis for learning how to read. Word mastery in adulthood is correlated with early acquisition of words, so reading aloud to your kids early is a powerful strategy to prepare them for competent literacy skills throughout life.

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Although just talking more to your children throughout the day does increase their vocabulary, it restricts children to the words we commonly use in the family. Reading aloud exposes them to a greater variety of words. In addition, storytelling has its own benefits, such as promoting creative thinking, enhancing memory recall, improving attention span, and building a deep level of engagement which has been tied to improved literacy. Furthermore, the language in books is very rich. We tend to use “verbal shorthand” in conversation rather than full sentences, but in books, the language is more sophisticated and, of course, in complete sentences.


Jim Trelease is the author of the respected book, The Read-Aloud Handbook. In an interview, he was asked why children who come to school with a larger vocabulary do better. His answer – “If you think about it, in the early years of school, almost all instruction is oral. The teaching is oral and the kids with the largest vocabularies have an advantage because they understand most of what the teacher is saying. The kids with small vocabularies don’t get what is going on from the start, and they’re likely to fall further and further behind as time goes on.”

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