The Power of Reading Aloud to Children

I don’t think I could overestimate the importance of reading aloud to children, even after they have learned to read. Sure, we all read to babies and toddlers, although some of us may not do it as often as we should. But many times we stop reading out loud to children in older grades. We’re missing out on a great opportunity.

Broadening Horizons

Once a child reaches first or second grade, they can begin to understand books that are up to five grades above their own grade level. By picking challenging books, you expose them to vocabulary and ideas that they themselves could not yet read on their own. This is a neat concept that can be very beneficial to multi-age classrooms (and families with children of varying ages).

By picking a book that is fun and engaging for more than one age group (e.g., Charlotte’s Web), each age of child will get something different from the story. A younger child might simply enjoy the plot and characters, while an older child might pick up on the themes of the story.

Some of my favorite memories as a child are of my dad reading out loud to me and my sisters—books that we wouldn’t have chosen to read on our own, like the Pilgrim’s Progress, but how we loved to listen to him read out loud. Plus we were getting huge doses of the one thing every child wants more than anything else: their parents’ attention.

The Benefits of Reading Aloud

1. Stimulates imagination
When you read aloud to a child (especially from a book with no pictures), they have to use their minds to picture what is happening in the story. They also may enjoy predicting the character’s actions or thinking up alternate endings to the story.

2. Expands vocabulary
Reading to a child from a book that is a level or two above their own reading level exposes them to new words they might not discover on their own. They will likely be reluctant to interrupt the flow of the story by asking the meaning of a word, and will instead strengthen their ability to figure out meanings through context.

3. Develops analytical and logical thinking
Well-written stories challenge children to go beyond their own experiences and put themselves in someone else’s place. Why did the character act the way they did? How did someone else respond? How might they respond in the same situation? These questions lead to in-depth discussions and reflections on the choices we make in life and how they affect those around us.

4. Strengthens the bond between the adult and child
Reading aloud is a shared experience; usually, the adult enjoys the story as much or more than the child does and they bond as they laugh, cry, and ponder together.

5. Gives children a love of books
Reading aloud to children gives adults a chance to choose timeless, appealing stories that will grab the child’s interest and attention.

6. Strengthens a child’s love of reading on their own
A child who is read to will also enjoy picking up a book themselves – especially if they don’t want to wait for “installments” and would rather read right through it.

7. Increases attention span
A child can listen to a captivating story for a long time – and this practice increases their ability to pay attention and focus on an activity.

Silent Reading and Parallel Reading

Giving children structured time to read silently to themselves is also very important. You may want to make it a part of your school day schedule – at least a few days a week.

Parallel reading is when you and the children read independently at the same time. This allows you to demonstrate your own love and respect for reading – and we all know that children usually copy what we do, not what we say.

A principle to keep in mind is that what you help a child love and desire is more important than what you help them learn. A sure sign of a reader is a young child who snuggles up with a book, although it might be upside down and the words on the page are still meaningless to her. She is showing evidence that she wants to read. That is the kind of love and joy that you want to nurture.

Looking for Great Books?

I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It’s a helpful book on how and why to read to children. It’s in its fifth or sixth printing so try to get the most recent version if you can. It’s full of great info about reading aloud, as well as lots of recommendations for great “read aloud” books.

Here are some places I can always find great books to read aloud (you can check Amazon for age recommendations for any books you see here):

Newbery Award Winners

Caldecott Award Winners

Read Alouds by Age from Parents’ Choice

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17 Responses to “The Power of Reading Aloud to Children”

  • Marsha said at May 31st, 2010 at 3:28 pm :

    Thanks for posting this one. I started reading to my children as soon as they were born. My youngest is 7, and we’ve already been on our “The Wind in the Willows” journey six times. He has never tired of that book. I posted about it today on my blog.

  • Lori Bourne said at May 31st, 2010 at 4:43 pm :

    Hi, Marsha! Yes, that’s a great book for reading aloud. So glad you liked the post. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Michelle said at June 1st, 2010 at 5:42 am :

    Oh, I have been so looking forward to reading chapter books with my two. My mom would read us chapter books when I was little and it is one of my fondest memories! There is nothing like sharing a good book with loved ones and friends.

  • Lori Bourne said at June 1st, 2010 at 6:43 am :

    Hi, Michelle! It’s one of my favorite childhood memories too and my kids enjoy when we read to them. Pretty much a win-win all the way around!

  • Ketzi said at June 2nd, 2010 at 11:55 am :

    Great post! I love reading my child in both english and spanish. Now that he is 10, he can read big books like Harry Potter in spanish, it made the second language so much easier to learn!

    I have also heard that reading aloud encourages children to the good habit of listening and the development of empathy.

  • Lynn said at June 2nd, 2010 at 12:12 pm :

    Our newest addition for my 5 year old was the secret garden and Anne of green gables. My parents never read to me past a certain age but I plan to do it with my kids. Thanks for posting!!

  • Lori Bourne said at June 2nd, 2010 at 12:23 pm :

    Ketzi, I love the idea of reading aloud to children in a language other than their native one – what a great idea! They may not understand all the words but it would certainly make it easier for them to become fluent.

    Lynn, those are two of my favorite books also. I love that the stories are so timeless, they have lasted for many generations. Thank you for taking the time to comment – I really appreciate it!

  • Rosemary said at June 5th, 2010 at 5:52 am :

    This is a lovely post, Lori. I am still reading aloud to our nine year old as. Both our kids have been raised on a steady diet of reading aloud and audio books. Over the years we have spent long hours in the car for many reasons and this has allowed us to read and re-read many great books.

    Our son is now old enough that I am selecting from the ‘classics’ that I enjoyed reading in late elementary school. We’ve had a great time reading The Hobbit, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Magic Faraway Tree, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Narnia books. I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter what age a lot of these books are read to him at. We come back to them at a later stage and he discovers a whole new world. I believe this is a reflection of the Montessori principle of revisiting. He seems to take from the book what he can understand at the time and the next time around there’s something new to discover or be mastered.

    I really like your suggestion for parallel reading, we shall be giving this one a go.

    Anyhow, I can’t endorse this idea enough. I think possibly the best thing about the commitment to read aloud at the end of the day is that it provides such a great bookend to the day. When things have been challenging, when we may have had an argument just minutes before, it is hard to read well and be angry at the same time, and so we have a relaxing, pleasant end to every day, no matter what has happened in it.

  • Lori Bourne said at June 5th, 2010 at 7:32 am :

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Rosemary! I agree, re-reading favorites is one of many pleasures of reading aloud. You’re right, reading at the end of the day is such a nice way to cap off the day, regardless of what may have happened or how stressful the day was.

  • Psmontessori said at June 7th, 2010 at 6:34 am :

    Thank you for this post, Lori. Someone recommended the Read Aloud Handbook to me ages ago, but I had forgotten its name. As soon as I read your post, I ordered it. Can’t wait to go book shopping with it!

  • Lori Bourne said at June 7th, 2010 at 6:37 am :

    Great, so glad to help!

  • Anna said at June 13th, 2010 at 8:17 am :

    Reading aloud is always a great community builder in my classroom. It is great to hear students discussing the book and making predications about what is to come and reflecting on what has happened. I took what I thought would be a giant leap this year and read “The Hobbit” to my lower elementary class. We read through it slowly, but they were all so excited about it. It was fabulous for building vocabulary and it is definitely an adventure filled story.

  • Bill said at June 23rd, 2010 at 12:20 pm :

    I am also deeply committed to the value of reading aloud to children. But I have never been able to find much that Montessori said directly abut the benefits/importance of reading aloud in her writings (I have been looking for a good, juicy quote). Have you?

  • Lori Bourne said at June 23rd, 2010 at 12:58 pm :

    Hi, Bill! I can’t think of a quote like that offhand, but since she talks so much about striking the child’s imagination and providing them with diverse sources of information, it’s clear that she would support reading aloud. And those are some of the benefits that you probably could find quotes for.

  • Benay Umrichin said at June 25th, 2010 at 9:43 am :

    It’s interesting that so many people feel there is a time that reading aloud should stop. After all, there would be no poetry readings if adults didn’t enjoy the read aloud experience too.

  • Diane Livera said at July 9th, 2010 at 7:46 pm :

    Absolutely spot on…a child’s life is empty without the sound of reading and being read to. A child’s brain will start to absorb from the moment of conception and will not stop…so the role of the parent is very vital and reading must be a top priority…it’s is never too early and must continue…

  • Lori Bourne said at July 9th, 2010 at 7:53 pm :

    Thanks for your thoughts, ladies! I agree completely. Adults enjoy hearing books and poems read aloud just as much as children do – we just don’t often take the time to listen.