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What’s the most natural urge a parent has once a child enters their life? I’d place my bet on the fact that we want to teach our children as many life lessons as possible – kindness, humility, generosity, honesty, compassion, resilience, curiosity, the list goes on. Anything that will help prepare them for the big wide world they’ll step out into one day all on their own.
As a mother of four kids ranging from 15 years to 12 months, I’m juggling four diverse personalities each in their own stage of development. So how do I meaningfully divvy my time and attention between my oldest, Lego-obsessed son, my sweet pre-teen, a precocious 8 year old who’s never met a screen or camera she didn’t love, and a toddler with a battery so turbo-charged it would put the Energizer Bunny to shame? We read together, out loud.
Reading aloud with my kids has been a constant. During those exhausting early years as a first-time mom, I craved the quiet evenings when I could snuggle up with my son and watch his face light up as I read his favorite bedtime stories.
He’d gaze at the illustrations in fascination, pointing out details, his excitement building as we read on.
Little did I know that this little ritual would become the most beneficial way to bond with my baby boy and impart valuable little nuggets of wisdom with each new adventure we embarked on together.
In the age of experts, extracurriculars, overconsumption, and the ubiquitous presence of screens, hailing the benefits of reading out loud sounds quaint, but time and again research reinforces these unparalleled upsides.
The obvious benefits include an improvement in memory and focus (a literal godsend for a generation hooked on bite-sized flashes of entertainment and information), sharpened comprehension and critical thinking skills, a more developed vocabulary, and the ability to be a better listener. Sounds like the perfect recipe for academic success to me.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you’re on your way to unlocking a world that’ll set your kids up for personal growth and development beyond your imagination.
What are the benefits of reading together?
Connect With Your Kids
Foremost, reading with your children is a fantastic way to spend time bonding. As a working parent of four kids, I feel like there are never enough hours in the day to do all the things that need doing. Between school pick-ups and drop-offs, extracurriculars, homework, laundry, dinner, and the general bustle of life, taking time to slow down and be fully present with my children can feel like a tall order. I want them to feel loved and valued and so I fall back into my old ritual – quietly snuggling into bed with a book and my bubs.
These days, the kids are obsessed with the MinaLima illustrated Harry Potter series. We take turns reading to each other, sometimes going to the lengths of donning Potter-themed costumes for an extra measure of excitement.
Together, we root for Harry and his gang, losing ourselves in magical worlds filled with fantastical creatures, heroes, and villains, often pausing to discuss and dissect the dramatic twists and turns and, in those moments, beyond our busy lives, we are one team, on the same journey, cheering our fictional friends towards victory and rejoicing in the defeat of evil foes.
Reading aloud to one another, we are physically close, we are sharing our thoughts, and we are giving each other the gift of our time – yes, this time together is an act of love between me and my kids.
Nurture Emotional Development
When you read aloud to each other, you’re also embarking on a shared quest with the characters of the story, seeing the world through their eyes, becoming privy to their most intimate thoughts, walking with them through their most turbulent trials, and tribulations. Working through the emotions invoked by the plot of the book imparts subtle, yet powerful lessons that might be difficult to articulate otherwise.
Reading Alan Gratz’s Ground Zero with my daughter, we wandered through the impact of 9/11 on two children’s lives. As my daughter’s tears flowed, her young mind trying desperately to make sense of such unmitigated violence and despair, I held her close. As she began to calm, I gently probed her thoughts. She was heartbroken for the children and the horrors they had experienced. To an adult mind, it would seem rudimentary, but for an 8-year old these are the kernels of compassion of empathy that come with walking a mile in a stranger’s shoes. These are priceless lessons.
Give Them The Gift Of Gab
Half-spoken sentences, sound-bites, butchered grammar, slang, and casual language proliferate our everyday lives. How we speak naturally veers from the sophistication of written words. Though these deviations are understandable, it runs the risk of true meaning getting lost in translation.
Reading aloud is a wonderful tool to temper and expand how children express themselves by allowing them to hear how a language sounds.
Cadence, rhythm, intonation, phrasing, pronunciation, and so on, these contextual cues help children decode the meaning of words they may not otherwise understand when simply reading to themselves. Orderly and grammatically correct linguistic patterns are best learned and better retained through the ear and a key to clear, crisp communication as children mature.
Working our way through Restart, Gordon Kormon’s brilliant novel about a young boy who loses his memory and must relearn who he is now while reconciling with his past, I could see my children soaking up the unfamiliar ideas and words.
Taking a beat to explain the words they didn’t comprehend and discussing the protagonist’s situation, it was a thrill to hear my kids labeling emotions, emphatically expressing their thoughts, and debating the motivations of characters.
Amidst this chatter, the floodgates of communication seemed to burst open.
Reading Aloud Reaps Endless Rewards
Ultimately, each parent’s approach to their child’s development is unique and I celebrate whatever path they choose. Cheering them on at a ballgame, taking a quiet walk, splashing in the pool on a hot summer day, proudly watching them prance across a stage at a dance recital, you know what works for your children. For my family, reading together is the perfect recipe for slowing down, taking it easy, bonding in a meaningful way, and, most importantly, imparting all those valuable life lessons I hope will equip them for a successful future.
A rich vocabulary, the ability to actively listen, deep critical thinking skills, a heightened capacity for empathy and compassion, the courage to express what they mean and mean what they express, and the urge to understand a world beyond their imagination and experience, these are the rewards of reading out loud.
How to find time for reading aloud together
I know our day can be so busy, but it is easy to find ways to incorporate more reading into our lives. Families reading together is so important to do!
We have been reading books together in a variety of ways. Even just having the kids reading together is great for them.
Lately, we have loved listening to audiobooks. We get out some paint, have a chit-chat, and then put on an audiobook. We listen together while our hands are calmed by the stroke of the paintbrush. By not having to physically read the words in the book, we can multi-task while still taking in what we are hearing. The audiobook version of the book Ground Zero has been a captivating read.
You can listen to books in the car while you are driving from place to place, read a paperback book at night before bed, or read a few pages before/after dinner. Make reading a part of your day. Even sitting down at night and reading together online is important! There are so many benefits of reading together!