Reading Aloud to Children?

By John Vander Brink

Why should parents and teachers read aloud to children? One of the primary methods by which young children learn their first words is by imitation. By age 2, the average child can say 300 words. By age 3, he can say 900 words. By age 4, he can say 1600 words, and by age 5, 2100 words. This is remarkable because most children have not really read many words by that time. In other words, early language acquisition comes largely by hearing. And hearing words read can play a very vital role in language development.

It is absolutely critical that children in today’s society be active and fluent readers. Despite the bombardment by all forms of mass media, an adult who is not a fluent reader is at a definite disadvantage with regard to his job, keeping informed of daily events, and in the literary necessities of his everyday life at home. Most importantly, a poor reader is at a great disadvantage regarding the religious materials available today. Reading God’s Word and the writings of our forefathers can be used to open the door of one’s soul.

We all know that children’s imaginations are very lively when they are young. Reading can bring experiences to those imaginations. But adults need to read stories to bring them those experiences. We should read to them so that they want to read more and gain new experiences.

Don’t stop reading to them when they are learning to read. Reading to a child does not stifle his interest in learning to read; it stimulates it. Studies show that a decline in reading aloud to growing children causes a decline in an interest in reading. Children do not outgrow being read to too quickly. Reluctant readers need moving stories read to them to stimulate their interest. Reading expands a child’s horizons. It brings to him vicarious experiences. Give them books that are suited to them. Push their vocabularies a bit. Vary the interest. Help them grow verbally and socially.

Research has a lot to say that encourages reading at an early age. In 1765, John Adams wrote that a native American who cannot read is as rare as a comet or an earthquake. This was attributed to the colonial child being exposed from infancy to the daily oral reading of the Bible.

Research also indicates that it may be appropriate to begin to read to children as early as 6 months of age. It is then that children begin to make their first sounds which are often imitations of sounds they hear. The sound of a voice to hear is important in early language development. It also establishes a bond between the parent and child which can serve well in a more formal reading setting as the child grows older.

It has also been estimated that 50% of a child’s intelligence is set by age four, before he begins to read himself and while someone is reading to him. Children who learn to read early generally have an adult who reads to them regularly, are exposed to a wide variety of books, have paper and pencils available for expressive language, and are often questioned on their reading by caring adults.

The "read-aloud" setting is very important. The reader’s attitude should be warm, interested, and involved - even emotionally sometimes. Reading levels should be carefully chosen, the story context should be audience-appropriate, the pace of the story should be measured, and attention span be considered. Stories may vary from picture books to complicated themes. It is never too late to begin reading aloud to children, but generally the earlier you do, the better. You can tell when a child is ready to move on to more advanced books by his desire for you to keep reading. You can also tell he is ready for more advanced books by his

being able to tell you clearly what happened in the story and by the kinds of questions he asks. It is important to follow through with your reading. Don’t allow large intervals of time between readings. Also, don’t read too fast. This is a common mistake. Listeners need time to form a mental conception of what they are hearing. This adds to the excitement, sadness, or the child’s personal attachment to the book. Have books handy all the time. Books can be taken anywhere. Save one for a traffic jam, a long wait in a dentist’s office, or for other unexpected delays.

Reading should be a family affair. It is important also for fathers to read to children. Children should see that reading is as much a male activity as a female’s. Arrange for a reading time each day. This can be combined with or in addition to a family devotion time in which the whole family sets aside time to read together. Be an avid reader yourself and talk about your reading. Your enthusiasm is catchy.

Don’t read stories to children which you did not enjoy yourself. Your dislike will show in the reading, and that defeats your purpose. Don’t start a section unless there is enough time to develop a mental image. Having to stop after only one or two pages only serves to frustrate, rather than stimulate, the child’s interest in reading. Be prepared for lots of questions especially from young children. But answer what really is a question, not just idle talk.

Providing a home library is an important part of encouraging children to read. It should consist of books at all levels of ability and interest. Homes should have reading materials all around and very accessible. This encourages reading. It may be good for some children to have a reading corner. Parents should recommend books to their children and encourage children to talk about what they read. We all know that some of the best books we have read are those that have been recommended to us and that we have talked about.

Many of our godly forefathers were avid readers and scholars. Today’s busyness and technology threatens to reduce that. Yet God has often blessed the printed Word. He has caused His own Word to be a printed Word. We should encourage our children to be a generation of readers, avid readers, varied readers. They should become deeply and intimately acquainted with many subjects. But especially they should become acquainted with God’s Word and the writing of our forefathers. With God’s blessing, it will be a great blessing personally and to those around them.