Numerous studies show the benefits of reading to your child and the negative effects of not reading to your child. Some argue that reading can begin before a child is born. Unfortunately, not every parent is aware of the importance of reading to their kids.
As a parent, I wish I had known what I know now about the importance of reading and vocabulary development. My experience growing up was very different from what many researchers recommend. I did not have multiple books, nor was I often read to by my parents.
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Benefits of reading
But what are the benefits of reading to your child important? Reading to your child is important because it is the first step in learning a language. Researchers Li and Fleer (2015) share that parents’ interaction with their child during a shared book reading is essential for building children’s interest in reading.
If you ask a parent what they feel when they read to their child, he/she might share how reading contributes to their parent and child bond. Reading is a gratifying experience. Children truly enjoy being read to and also cherish the attention they are given during reading activities.
Some say that a child’s attention span increases when parents read to them. This is because the child develops the ability to sit still and engage during reading time. Reading also sends a message that communicates the importance of literature. I would also argue that a routine may also contribute to their well being and memory retention.
Incidental vocabulary growth is another benefit that comes from reading to your child. Reading increases the ability to grow our vocabulary by reading. The idea that the more we read, the more language we are exposed to.
Vocabulary skills benefits
As I write about the additional benefits of reading activities, I must mention how reading to children influences oral language development. Silverman (2007) highlights that although some children start school with vast vocabulary knowledge, many begin with relatively limited vocabulary knowledge. This difference in vocabulary skills is often attributed to home environments. Such a difference in vocabulary knowledge is evident when a parent reads or not reads to a child. These differences are reflected in a child’s language and literacy skills.
When it comes to reading development teachers often discuss the importance of background knowledge. Background knowledge influences reading and writing skills because it allows a person to draw from experience or knowledge. Each of these skills is an essential component of developing language skills in school.
Concerns of not reading
In 2001, researchers Tabors and Snow suggested that many children whose home language is not English have more limited English vocabularies compared to their monolingual English peers. A lack of vocabulary knowledge is more evident in English language learners, which teachers try to overcome by increasing vocabulary instruction.
For children, not knowing enough vocabulary ultimately impacts cognitive development and reading comprehension. Reading comprehension is affected when children begin to read and encounter too many unknown vocabulary words. As kids grow, a concerning gap in vocabulary knowledge hinders their academic performance. For English language learners vocabulary also contributes to English language acquisition.
I believe that a well known academic achievement gap among our children also comes from a lack of reading exposure. The achievement gap refers to the low performance that exists among different groups of children. Stanovich (1986) notes this concern by stating that if one grows up in a household that encourages exposure to words, then one’s vocabulary may well be greater, which in turn may lead to superior learning and performance on other kinds of tasks that require language.
When to begin reading
After reading about the benefits and concerns of reading to your child, we can now discuss when reading should begin. I have seen literature that emphasizes how reading and talking to your child can begin as soon as you know you expect. The idea that babies can hear us and that a bond can start this early is magical.
Once your child arrives, consistency is critical. Set a routine by scheduling a time to read on regular basis. Share this responsibility with your partner by alternating reading days or times. Most parents choose to do this during a child’s bedtime routine. Again, consistency is the most crucial part here.
I once heard during a school presentation that reading to kids should never stop. If your kids are older, consider having them read to you or reading together. Discuss what they are reading about as often as possible. Designate a reading routine for older kids to read.
How to read to your child
What does reading to your child look like? In many households, this may be a nightly routine right before a child goes to bed. Sometimes your child might fall asleep as you read to them. They might also be attracted to a favorite book or ask for you to read the same books over and over again.
The types of books to read can vary. These could be picture books, non-fiction, or fiction books. What’s important is reading aloud so that kids are exposed to as much language as possible. Discuss with your child’s teacher to determine appropriate reading level books as your child gets older.
Picture books are books with less text in them. These books are an excellent start for younger kids to showcase the book as you read to them. The pictures tend to be colorful and engaging for kids. With picture books, parents can teach new vocabulary to kids.
Exposing kids to non-fiction books is a great way to teach facts and content. Non-fiction books tell facts and information about the world around us. These facts and information can cover almost any real-life topic, plants, animals, or anything around us. Use non-fiction books to expose kids to facts and information about the world we live in.
Meanwhile, fiction books are an imaginary form of narrative that covers fictitious content and information of everyday life. Some examples of fiction books are Disney theme books. Most fiction books present a made-up story using specific modes such as suspense. Use fiction books to expose kids to imaginary scenarios and help increase vocabulary.
If you are bilingual using picture books may be a great way to tell stories in different languages. Be sure also to use bilingual books to expose your child to multiple languages. Bilingual books are sometimes available in both English and another language. Alternate the language you read the book in to expose your child to various languages. Hearing the same story in multiple languages provides kids the opportunity to make connections about multiple languages.
Online reading options
Many online programs provide picture books, non-fiction, fiction, and bilingual books. Most online programs offer audio play options that kids can click on to listen to books. If you are not bilingual, this may be a great way to expose your child to other languages and improve their listening skills.
During the beginning stages, parents will read while the child enjoys and listen. As children get older, they will begin to ask questions and follow along as you read. Keep in mind that this reading activity is the beginning stage in teaching your child that words have meaning and sounds.
Several things influence why parents do not read to their child. For example, not being read to as a child is one reason why some parents do not read to their kids. Although we now know reading to our kids is highly important, we might struggle to make this a routine.
To overcome this roadblock, we must practice making this part of our daily routine. Once you make reading a habit, you will see the benefits that it brings to your child. As a parent, you will also enjoy the quality time regular reading provides. When reading becomes a routine, you’ll notice that skipping a reading activity will become harder with time.
A common challenge is not finding books to read. However, remember that is ok to read the same book multiple times to kids. There are also thousands of online books that parents can access for free. Your local school district and library offers online access to online books, including chapter books.
Additionally, dollar stores and second-hand stores sell books at affordable prices. Feel free to ask your school librarian for books as well. Amazon and eBay also offer numerous cheap books you can easily order online. Companies like Usborne Books and More have to engage and a variety of books for kids that they would love.
I hope that you found affirmation to continue reading if you already read to your child. If you are not, I hope you now understand its importance, the benefits, and how to read to your child. Remember that reading to kids can foster a stronger relationship and ultimately helps develop a reading habit. Reading is one more thing you can do to enhance your parent-child relationship and contribute to their academic success and communication skills.
Li, L., & Fleer, M. (2015). Family pedagogy: parent-child interaction in shared book reading.
Silverman, R. (2007). A comparison of three methods of vocabulary instruction during read-alouds in kindergarten.
Stanovic, K. (1986). Mathew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy.
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