“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild,
to pick up a book and read to a child.”
– Dr. Seuss
The importance of reading to children at an early age is unquestionable. Considering that it is at the heart of all formal education, reading to children at a very early age increases their chances for academic success. Benefits include enhanced brain development, improved attention span, increased self-confidence, broader creativity, and more developed social skills.
But why stop reading to your children once they are able to read on their own – usually between six and eight? Continuing to read to them till they are twelve or so provides a scaffold to lift them to a whole new array of reading skills. Yet, many parents stop long before then, errantly believing that their job is done once their children can read words somewhat fluently.
However, it’s right around eight years old that books become more challenging with less pictures and more intricate plots and themes. Thus, for children to go it alone at this stage impedes their ability to acquire necessary high level reading skills.
With that in mind, here are further reasons to continue reading to your children long after the basic skills have been acquired.
Pleasure and memories:
There are few connections as powerful as reading with your children and seeing their faces light up with wonder and curiosity as the story unfolds. You both develop a deeper bond thanks to the time shared together. It is another secure connection, a memory they can carry into their adulthood, something you can both look back on, and something they can pass on to their children. Along with giving them an academic edge, reading to your children for as long as possible forms a link that will connect the generations.
Language and comprehension development:
By being read aloud to, children learn pronunciation, pacing, intonation, and expression. As parents, you can broaden their passive vocabulary. Interestingly, children can more readily comprehend a text when it is read to them because they are not overly concerned about sounding out words and worrying about how their voice sounds. Thus, they can listen more attentively. Furthermore, children can be introduced to hidden messages and varied interpretations, becoming more aware of the deeper meaning beyond the basic story line.
Broadens literature selection and enhances discussion:
When left to their own choices, children will generally reach for something familiar and within their ability range. However, by reading to your pre-teens, you can choose books that are longer or more difficult. Such challenges stretch their awareness and boost their confidence and skills. Reading to them also opens the door for meaningful discussions where you exchange ideas and impressions. Your presence as an adult facilitates understanding and appreciation. It’s an opportunity to broaden your children’s knowledge.
Reading is a powerful and liberating skill. Simply being able to read words and make sense of them gives children a sense of autonomy and knowledge of what was once just a series of meaningless symbols. Being able to make sense of the symbols opens them to new worlds and new ideas. But the wonder doesn’t stop there.
At around 8 years old, as kids start to confront a wider range of text demands, they might find reading becoming more of a pain than a pleasure. Therefore, to leave children to their own devices at this point – once they are able to read words and stand on the cusp of noticing deeper meaning – is to short-change them. It’s like giving them keys to a magic kingdom but no map to help them get there.
Of course, once they are able to read children do need to read on their own. That’s because reading takes practice. And like any good practice, it is always more effective when there is someone to guide and facilitate in order to make it past the difficult parts. That’s where parents come in.
By Dan Franch, September 2014.