We believe that in the future, as in the past, all students should possess certain essential literacies–including highly developed skills in reading, writing, speaking, and number sense. One of the ways we create language arts literacy at TASIS is with our Core Knowledge approach and an emphasis on reading aloud. I have been asked why reading aloud is better than reading to oneself: Isn’t reading supposed to be a private and quiet time?
The importance of reading aloud to children daily can’t be overestimated. The U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Reading gathered over 10,000 research studies and found that in order to develop children’s skills and set the stage for reading success, the most important activity is reading aloud to children (see Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985). Children to whom we read aloud are usually the very best readers in the classroom. They acquire large vocabularies, write well, and do better in other subject areas as well.
Educator E.D Hirsch opines in his books on the subject (Cultural Literacy and The Schools We Need) that the benefits of reading aloud are many, causing students to develop background knowledge, comprehension, robust vocabularies, and critical thinking skills. Our teachers make reading aloud an ingrained habit in their classrooms and our students love it. Many of our teachers specialize in literacy and proven approaches to it, with specialized training in Reading Recovery, literacy coaching, Core Knowledge, and The Orton Gillingham Approach.
If you have ever read to your children at home, you have experienced the focus, attentiveness, and joy of this activity. Beyond those pluses, it has been proven to be good for them. In fact, we maintain that reading aloud to children, and importantly having children read aloud to parents, is perhaps the best form of homework. It improves family relationships, increases attention and vocabulary, prepares children much better for bedtime than television or computers, and has developmental advantages that will serve students in their schoolwork. We liken it to nighttime meditation in some ways, but instead of focusing on breathing, children’s minds are full of creative imagery and calming thoughts.
This “keystone habit” is one of the easiest and most beneficial habits that we can instill in young learners and in parents. Keystone habits are an elite category of habits that kick off a chain reaction, influencing several areas of your life at once. In other words, if you focus on just one keystone habit, you’ll experience several positive impacts. Reading to your child is easy (even if they know how to read) and it will set off a chain reaction of positive outcomes. This activity can be done well into a child’s middle years.
The other advantage and important strategy of reading aloud is to expand the vocabulary. Using words that young children have not encountered previously, especially when repeated and in a context in which the child knows 90% of the other words, can dramatically improve a child’s vocabulary, and therefore his/her knowledge. We know that knowledge builds on knowledge, so increasing vocabulary improves both reading comprehension and general academic performance (see Dana Suskind’s book, Thirty Million Words – Building a Child’s Brain, 2015).
Unfortunately, a recent survey of American families indicates that only 30 percent of parents reported reading aloud to their kids for at least 15 minutes a day. At TASIS, we expect that elementary school parents, in partnership with the school, will embrace reading aloud to and with their children.
When this happens, according to Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, benefits include:
· Your child will hear a wider variety of words. This pre-kindergarten skill that matters above all others, because a prime predictor of school success or failure is a child’s vocabulary upon entering school. Since most instruction for the first four years of school is oral, the child who has the largest vocabulary will understand the most, while the child with the smallest vocabulary will grasp the least.
· The more you read to your child, the more the neurons in her/his brain will grow and connect.
· You’ll put your child on the path to be a lifelong reader. Reading is essential for the learning process, and kids who struggle with reading tend to struggle in school.
· Your child’s behavior will improve. When you read aloud, you increase your child’s ability to pay attention and concentrate – skills that certainly help your child in school.
· You increase your child’s capacity for empathy. When you read fiction to children, they live vicariously through the characters at a neurological level, growing their "empathy muscles."
There is no doubt that reading aloud is one of the simplest yet most effective ways of improving a child’s outcomes in school.