Reading aloud to young children and how it impacts on their cognitive development, has been the topic of extensive research worldwide. And the results are clear. Reading aloud to our children is the single most important activity we can do to help develop reading, language and cognitive skills.
As many of you will be aware, the most important period for parents to invest in the cognitive skills of their children is in the early years. As parents therefore, it’s empowering to know that through our own efforts; by simply reading aloud to our children on a regular basis, we have a chance to influence their success.
How Reading Aloud Develops Cognitive Skills
To give you a glimpse of exactly what the wealth of research has found, I will take a look at two large studies.
The first one is a paper produced by Melbourne University in Australia, in partnership with, The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. They carried out extensive research into the relationship between parents reading aloud to their children and its impact on their child’s skills, (in reading, language, literacy, numeracy and cognition), later on.
The study followed a group of over 4,000 children, aged 4-5 over a period of six years, (starting in 2004). The findings were significant. It showed a direct link between how often a young child is read aloud to, and the development of their reading skills:
Reading to your 4-5 year old, 3-5 days per week, increases their reading skills by 6 months
Reading to your 4-5 year old, 6-7 days per week, has the same effect as being 12 months older
It also showed a positive correlation between how often a child was read aloud to and their performance in Australia’s National Assessment Programme – literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN). Interestingly, this not only included an improvement in the reading tests but also the numeracy tests. Significantly, these higher scores were also not related to the background of the child or their home environment, but purely on how much they had been read to before they started school:
(There is) a direct casual effect from reading to children at a young age and their future schooling outcomes regardless of parental income, education level or cultural background.
The study concludes by stating just how important our role is as parents in giving our children the best start:
……there is an important role for parents in the development of educational performance of their children. Parental reading to children increases the child’s reading and other cognitive skills at least up to the age of 10-11. This is an early life invention that seems to be beneficial for the rest of their lives.
Research on Reading Aloud by the OECD
An international study carried out by the, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), investigated the long term impact of parental support with reading aloud when their children were young. The report found that, parental involvement early on proved significant in developing their children’s reading skills that would continue until they were teenagers.
As with the Australian findings, the study also found that children whose parents read to them regularly could, represent more than a years advantage, in their reading ability, compared to those children whose parents rarely read to them.
Another interesting finding was a link between the reading ability of teenagers and time spent with their parents. It noted that everyday family activities where parents and children converse, could actually influence their school performance:
Eating main meals together around the table and spending time just talking with one’s children also associated with significantly better student reading performance in school.
Even when we are aware of the benefits of reading aloud to our children, the above studies are a good reminder of just how important reading is. In our often busy and stressed lives, it can be easy to skip that part of the bedtime routine for example. But it’s clear that it’s one of the most important things we can do.
Additional Benefits of Reading Aloud
In addition to what these two studies found, reading aloud also reaps several additional benefits. These include:
- Developing a stronger and wider vocabulary. Mol & Bus (2011), noted that children who are read to frequently when they are young, start school with larger vocabularies and have more advanced comprehension skills.
- Developing a connection for the child between the spoken and written word.
- Helping to develop their attention span.
- Instills a life-long love of reading which will further develop cognition.
- Providing a child with a safe and secure way of dealing with difficult topics such as, body safety and strangers, as well as an opportunity to explore strong emotions.
- Allowing a special time of the day for a child and parent to bond.
Below are several short news clips that you may find interesting. Experts in the field discuss how reading aloud to young children benefits brain development.
What else can parents do to develop their child’s reading?
It’s clear that reading aloud on a regular basis to our children is absolutely key. But what else can we do to aid their development?
Sue Palmer, a former head teacher and who is nationally recognised in the UK as an expert in literacy, offers some valuable tips for parents in how they can further help their children. These include:
- Let your child choose a new rhyme every week and practice it together, whether it’s in the car, taking a bath etc.
- Place an alphabet chart up at home and teach them an alphabet song.
- Provide lots of opportunities for your child to play outside with friends where they can run and explore. Play has been shown to be an important activity in developing language (also see, The Power of play for preschoolers/Cultivating a Love of Learning Through Play).
- Encourage your child to help with some of the chores, such as cooking and just chat….about anything!
- Read aloud regularly to your child.
- Read along with your child. Allow them to join in, saying their favourite lines.
- Allow time for your child to ‘read’ alone. Once they have had a book read aloud to them numerous times, they will be able to read the story using a mix of their own words and ones they have remembered from the book.
- When your child starts to bring books home from school, make reading them together enjoyable and give your child lots of praise. If they find the book difficult, it’s important to inform the teacher as soon as possible.
For me, Palmer’s final piece of advice is so important, that I will quote it directly:
Don’t see learning to read as some kind of race. Children learn at different speeds, so comparison with others is pointless. And rushing through a reading scheme as though it’s a competition doesn’t usually encourage a love of reading – indeed, it often causes children to switch off. Take it easy – and keep reading aloud for the sheer joy of reading together.
Below are Palmer’s recommended reads for 4-5 year olds:
- Mother Goose Remembers by Clare Beaton
A collection of nursery rhymes and songs with plenty of rhyme, repetition and rhythm that will introduce your child to the sounds of the English language.
- Pat the Cat (and other books), by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins. A new edition that comes with an interactive website. Features rhymes and funny pictures. A great way to introduce phonics without teaching it.
- Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers, by Lynley Dodd. A memorable rhyming story about a naughty cat causing chaos at Christmas. Introduces some interesting vocabulary with lots to talk about in the pictures.
- C is for Construction: big trucks and diggers from A-Z, (Chronicle). A non-fiction ABC book that is likely to appeal to boys
- Oscar and the Frog, by Geoff Waring. A book about growing up. Provides lots of information about growth and living things.
To end on, here is an interesting TED talk on the importance of reading aloud to our children, even after they have learnt to read.
Do you have any books that your children love and you’d like to recommend to other MoW readers? If so, it would be great to see them in the comments section below.
Children are made readers on the laps of their parents
Related: Education News Around The World
Really enjoyed this article, thank you! I have a 3 year old and a 10 month old and they love their pre-bed story time!
Thank you so much for your comment, Johan – I’m really glad you enjoyed it. There’s nothing quite like snuggling up at night with a book and your little ones!