The benefits of reading aloud to your child are huge. This week, guest educator, Ramon Messam, who has been in education for over twenty years, shares the benefits along with his experience and expertise. A specialist in the primary sector, he spent nine years as a principal in schools in New Zealand. He currently works as a National Programme Implementation Manager, to improve the level of education for all children.
Here, he reflects on his time as a primary school principal, focusing on the benefits of reading aloud for all children.
As a principal of a primary school I was regularly asked to engage with local preschool centres and their parents. Conversations invariably turned to preparing young ones for school. Two common themes would often emerge: learning through play and learning to read. There was usually a widespread awareness of the value of learning through play amongst the preschool parents. There was less awareness however, on how to prepare your child for reading and the importance of reading to your child.
A popular notion was the 1000 book child; an idea that I would share with the parents. The principle is that a child who has been exposed to a 1000 books by the age of five, will develop the interest and curiosity to want to become a reader themselves. In practice, this means reading to your child about four times a week. It doesn’t have to be 1000 separate books, but includes books that are read multiple times.
In reading to your child, you’re seeking to create the feeling that reading is fun and rewarding. The incidental, but valuable learning for a child are all the structures of a book. You start at the beginning and turn a page, the story remains the same. But each time you read a book to your child you will be providing them with essential tools; not only to become competent readers themselves, but to build on their cognitive skills that will benefit them well into adulthood.
Recently, I heard from a good friend who has been involved in a literacy project in schools in New Zealand. A key finding, and concern, is that young five-year-olds are arriving at the school gates with less advanced speaking skills than ten years earlier. This has proven a crucial piece of information, as the pace of learning to read for the youngsters is based on their understanding of language. In short, it’s difficult for a five-year-old to read words they’re not using as part of their speech. The schools involved are therefore changing what they do to compensate.
The jury is out on the reasons for this drop. It appears however, that children just aren’t talking as much, or perhaps not as widely as they once did. My conversation with this colleague eventually led to the value of spending time reading to your child. We all know, spending five minutes reading, The Hungry Caterpillar to a young one and you’ll need to be prepared for a further twenty minutes of questions on why the caterpillar is hungry and whether it can eat other things. And that’s great. Any time we can connect reading with a chance for a child to talk and share their fantastic ideas is a learning time.
The challenge for most parents is finding the time to read to their children. With many parents both working and exhausted at the end of the day, there are plenty of other distractions. To move beyond being a good idea into becoming a routine requires a commitment. Finding a particular part of the day, such as making it part of the bedtime routine, will make it easier to commit to. And if your kids are anything like mine were, they won’t make it easy for you to break that commitment!
If someone was to ask me what was the number one activity that parents can do to improve their child’s life chances; it would be the activity of reading to your child on a regular basis. I have witnessed on innumerable occasions, the child who is read to and the child who isn’t. The difference in reading ability and cognitive skills is considerable.
A commitment to read to your child also doesn’t have to include regular purchases of books. Trips to your local library will not only save on buying, but will also expose your child to a wide range of topics, enable them to get several books at a time and reinforce the joy that reading brings.
Written by R, Messam
Over to you…
It’s clear to see that the benefits of reading aloud are simply enormous. Did you find Ramon’s post helpful? Is there more you would like to know? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and questions in the comments below 🙂
And remember, it’s never too late to start – or too early!
Enjoy the reading.