Why read aloud to kids who can read themselves? It’s a fair question. Not many of us remember parents or teachers reading to us once we were old enough to read on our own.

But the benefits of reading aloud to kids who are old enough to read themselves are numerous.

That’s what we’re tackling in this episode of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast.

In this episode, you’ll hear:

  • 5 major benefits to reading aloud to kids who can read themselves
  • How reading together can help us connect during challenging times
  • Why experts agree that reading aloud is an absolute game changer when it comes to academics

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Listener Guide:

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3:43Want your kids to grow in empathy and compassion? Read aloud.
6:56Want your kids to succeed in school? Read aloud.
9:42Want your kids to be excellent communicators? Read aloud.
12:50Feeling at odds with the kids in your life? Read aloud.
14:48Want your kids to feel loved and valued? Read aloud.
19:02 Let the Kids Speak

What are the benefits of reading aloud to kids who can read already?

The center for Teaching at the University of Iowa lists both evidence-based and anecdotal benefits of reading aloud. Let’s focus today on five of those benefits.

Reading aloud…

  1. Develops Bigger Picture Perspective and Empathy
  2. Improves Academic Performance, Vocabulary, and Information Processing Skills
  3. Models Fluency and Expression
  4. Builds Community
  5. Slows Down and Enriches Time

1. READING ALOUD DEVELOPS BIGGER PICTURE PERSPECTIVE AND EMPATHY

Every time your child hears a story (or reads one on their own, for that matter), they are stepping in the shoes of another, and walking a mile in those shoes. 

Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto, helped conduct a study which showed that reading fictional stories increases the reader’s empathetic response to people in their real life.

In fact, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that reading a story gives the brain similar network connections as actually living through the experience yourself. So vicarious reading, isn’t as vicarious as we might have previously thought. 

In her excellent article, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors”, Rudine Sims Bishop explains that books sometimes reflect back to us who we are, show us the life of another, or take us into a fantastical scenario.

We want our children to know without a doubt that people are people, whether or not they look like us, talk like us, or act like us, and that every last person on this earth deserves to be loved because each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. 

Britain’s former children’s laureate said:

A good book is an empathy machine.

Chris Riddell

When we read with our children, we give them an education of the heart and the mind. We read together because stories teach us how to love.



2. READING ALOUD IMPROVES ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, VOCABULARY, AND INFORMATION PROCESSING SKILLS

Educational experts are constantly on the lookout for what could potentially give our kids better academic results.

Smaller class sizes? Continuing education for teachers? Longer school days? Shorter school days? Bigger budgets?

Maybe, but one thing we know for sure: reading aloud makes a tremendous difference here, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Dr. Joseph Price, whom I interviewed on Episode 33 of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast is an associate professor at Brigham Young University who specializes in economics of family and education.

His research demonstrates that one extra day per week of parent-child read-aloud sessions during the first ten years of a child’s life increases standardized test scores by half a standard deviation.

That’s hard for us to wrap our minds around, because… what does half a standard deviation even mean? A lot, Dr. Price told me in that episode.

In the Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease suggests that the academic benefits alone of reading aloud are so great, if someone invented a pill to deliver those benefits, there would be line for miles and miles to get it.

The 1985 Commission on Reading, after all, stated that “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

This is huge. Reading aloud is free! And it doesn’t even need to take all that much time day to day. 

If you were to read aloud for about 35 minutes per week, you’d read 30 hours over the course of the year. And that will make a tremendous difference long term.


3. READING ALOUD MODELS FLUENCY AND EXPRESSION

When our kids listen to us reading aloud (or when they listen to an audio book), they get not only the language that they’d see if they were reading words from a page, but they hear how that language sounds — the rhythm, the cadence, the intonation.

Andrew Pudewa from the Institute for Excellence in Writing points out that there is no other place where children get grammatically correct and sophisticated language patterns other than listening to books.

Grammatically correct, sophisticated language patterns need to come in through the ear. When we read aloud, all those language patterns come in word by word, in order. 

In episode 130 of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, Meghan Cox Gurdon reminded us that a child’s receptive vocabulary– what he understands- may be as many as 3 years ahead of his expressive vocabulary- what he can say.

In fact, a child’s reading level doesn’t typically catch up to his listening level until about the eighth grade.

That means we can read aloud to our kids books that are substantially more complex and rich in beautiful language and these sophisticated language patterns than they could read on their own.

In her book, The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in an Age of Distraction, she writes:

An adult reading aloud does far more than impart a story. He or she also shows by tone of voice, phrasing, and pronunciation how complicated sentences can be tackled, subdued, and enjoyed. And while all that is happening, the child is soaking up fresh ideas and unfamiliar words.

Meghan Cox Gurdon

4. READING ALOUD BUILDS COMMUNITY

When you’re reading that story, you’re rooting for the same character, hoping for the same victory, holding your breath, crying, laughing out loud, or worried about the same villain.

You are, in other words, reminded that you’re on the same team.

And that’s something we all probably can use as a reminder in parenting or teaching or otherwise hanging out with the kids in our lives. 

The discussions that stem from stories being shared together can be just as enriching and important.

We grow closer to those we have shared experiences with, after all, and when we’ve read a story together, we’ve walked that whole mile in the shoes of another, right? And we’ve done it TOGETHER.

Now we have another shared experience to draw from. Another connective tie to one another. 

A tsunami of neurochemical benefits gets unleashed when a parent and child cuddle opher over a book. Stress and anxiety downshift, for starters. As soon as the parent puts his or her arms around the child, hormones flood their bloodstreams, relaxing them and engendering mutual trust.

Susan Pinker

Maybe the simplest way to say this is, when we read together, we like each other more. And that seems reason enough to me.


5. READING ALOUD SLOWS DOWN AND ENRICHES TIME

In a world of sound bites and half-formed ideas expressed quickly in electronic formats, students benefit from hearing complete ideas, expressed with originality and attention, such as one finds in literary language.”

Center for Teaching at the University of Iowa

Not only that, but reading aloud requires that we be present with our kids. Not just with them physically, but WITH them. It’s an act of love to read to another, because by doing it, we’re saying, you know what matters right now, kid? You. Spending time with you.

According to the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report (we talked about this report more in depth with VP at Scholastic, Andrea Davis Pinkney in Episode 77, the older kids are, the less likely it is for parents to read aloud with them. The report says, in fact, “when asked why read-aloud decreases or stops, parents most commonly cite the fact that children can read on their own.”

But let’s think about the benefits we’ve already talked about.

  • Bigger picture perspective and empathy.
  • Improved vocabulary and information processing skills.
  • Modeling fluency and expression. 
  • Building community.
  • Slowing down and enriching time.

Are any of these rendered unnecessary as our kids get older?

Might we even have an argument, that as our kids enter their teens, all of these skills and abilities become more urgent and important than ever? 

Can you think of another way that all of this can be done with nothing more than a library card, in 10 or 15 minutes at a time … and that would make this kind of significant impact on the lives of our kids.

In an article on Brightly, Melissa Taylor mentions that only 17% of parents of kids age 9-11 read aloud to their children, though 83% of kids ages 6-17 say being read to is something they either loved or liked a lot. Our kids want to be read to, and we want all the benefits for them that reading aloud offers. So why read-aloud?

Well… why not? With nothing to lose and so very much to gain, I can’t think of a better way to spend our time.Now, let’s all go read to our kids.


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