It was the famous author, poet and cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel, more famously known as Dr. Seuss, who penned the words, “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.”
When it comes to teaching children, reading aloud can be as much of an educational experience as it is an entertaining one. According to Desiree Schumann, project coordinator of youth services with St. Louis County Library, reading aloud isn’t just a good way for children to bond with parents and peers; it also serves as a means for building vocabulary, practicing sentence fluency and even relieving anxiety.
Here are some benefits of reading aloud and the lessons that can be learned from sharing books with friends and family.
Comprehension and vocabulary
According to Schumann, reading aloud is a personal way for younger kids and students to not only discover new words but to learn how to say them in proper and realistic context.
“It’s pretty much one of the best things you can do to become a better student,” Schumann said. “It really helps introduce kids to a wider vocabulary and vernacular. Kids can hear those words pronounced by someone who knows how to say them. Take, for example, the word ‘sugar.’ It’s not spelled at all how you would pronounce it or say it.”
As children get older, different books can be selected for each education level so that more complicated vernacular and words can be gained from reading sessions.
According to Schuman, reading aloud helps kids to work on sentence fluency and can help with things like syntax and rhythm when reading or speaking.
“You can actually hear conversations in a book,” Schumann said. “It’s not just, ‘he said’ or ‘she said.’ You get to feel like the nuances of people speaking.”
Entertainment and social connection While there is an educational component to reading aloud, it can also be a fun opportunity for kids as well as a family-friendly bonding experience.
“Honestly, it’s just really fun to have someone read aloud to you,” Schumann said.
For parents looking to create read-aloud experiences at home, be prepared for some kids to want to provide feedback or talk about the story and opinions while reading. According to Schumann, discussion during and after read-aloud times is something to encourage and help kids better digest the material.
“Kids will give you that instant feedback when you’re reading to them,” Schumann said. “That nice thing about reading aloud and sharing is that you can stop and talk about things that are happening, and how they’re making you feel. It kind of makes for a much deeper connection with the story. Even from a young, age, we encourage younger kids to talk about what they’re seeing, and we ask older kids to talk about what they’re hearing when they’re reading aloud because it does make those deeper connections.”
According to Schumann, discussions about the written material with friends, family or siblings is something that can’t be garnered from reading alone.
“That’s not something you can do if you’re sitting on your couch or in your bed reading alone,” Schumann said. “For instance, even if you’re reading with a one-month-old, that doesn’t matter. Even though they can’t read, they’re still hearing your voice and making distinctions.”
Fits any schedule or budget
Unlike learning activities that may require travel time or other schedule commitments, reading aloud is something parents and kids can practice right from home and at a time that works for the entire family.
“The magic of a book is that you can stop right there, and then pick it up later, or the next night,” Schumann said. “Even with nonfiction, you don’t have to read the entire book. You can skip around and find the things that you’re most interested in.”
For children who might get stage fright when reading in front of parents or with peers, there are programs in which kids can practice reading to animals, like service dogs. Examples include SLCL’s “Whiskers and Tales” program and the “Shelter Buddies Reading Program” with the Humane Society of Missouri.
“They can even read aloud to their stuffed animals,” Schumann said.
For families on tighter budgets, free books and read-aloud programs are available at local libraries and recreation centers. Local book drives and sales often offer relatively inexpensive books, and Little Free Libraries are popping up more and more.
For parents looking to read aloud at home, here are some authors and books recommended by Schumann:
• Roald Dahl [“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Matilda”, “BFG”]
• Louis Sachar [“Holes”, “The Wayside School” series]
• E.B. White [“Charlotte’s Web”, “Stuart Little”]
• Raphael Simon ‘Pseudonymous Bosch’ – [“The Name of this Book is Secret”]
• Betty G. Birney [The “According to Humphrey” series]
Readers and parents can seek help from library staff members when looking for popular books to read with children.
“We have staff members at all library branches that can help parents find the right, age-appropriate books for their children,” Schumann said.