This post: Benefits of reading aloud to your kids (and how to find time to do it).
Will you read to me, Mama? Just one more book?
My seven-year-old’s crooked smile reveals the huge gaps in his front teeth as he shoves a well-loved copy of Little Bear into my lap. For us, this is a nightly ritual.
I close the book in my lap and reach for the one still in my little boy’s hand.
This simple gesture signals my surrender. Suddenly my seven, ten, and twelve-year-old sons are snuggled around me on the couch.
I eye my pile of books, which are now shoved to the far corner of the sofa, and give myself a personal raincheck.
It’s time to give in to the snuggles.
Why Would a Book Worm Hate Reading Aloud?
Growing up, I read countless chapter books aloud to my younger siblings and enjoyed every minute.
I imagined that reading aloud to my own kids would come almost naturally. Of course I would be good at it and of course I would enjoy it.
Then I had five kids and decided to homeschool them. By the time two o’clock nap time rolled around, morning devotions, phonics lessons, history stories, and math lessons had just about done me in.
I felt like I was reading to my kids- or at least talking at them- all day long.
Yes, I wanted to share my love of reading with my children.
But I’ll never forget the fateful day when I realized that I didn’t enjoy reading to my kids.
In fact, I kind of hated it.
As I pushed through several grueling years of teaching my two dyslexic kids to read, I suddenly had a new mantra:
When school is done for the day, the books are closed.
Not the best material for mother of the year, I know. But the demands of life as a home educator with kids who struggled to read kind of killed the joy of reading aloud.
It felt like work.
Here’s What Changed My Mind
The funny thing is, I couldn’t keep my kids away from books.
My oldest daughter was an avid reader from an early age; but even my dyslexic son, who could hardly write his name without the letters being upside down, constantly had his nose in a book.
His thirst for the company of books got my attention and I wanted to keep this love alive.
Our primary hurdle was to help him, and my other dyslexic child, work through the reading struggles- without me going completely insane.
I began researching, and everything I read told me what I already knew–
One of the great benefits of reading to children is that it helps them become readers themselves.
That was easy for me to believe about my oldest kiddo, who was an intuitive reader from a young age. But no one had to tell me that proficiency in reading doesn’t come naturally or easily for everyone.
Sometimes we have to work for it. For a really long time.
Not-So-Great Facts About Reading in the U.S.
When I was a child, my parents did missions work in third world countries. In the mountain villages of Latin American, illiteracy is as commonplace as good books are rare.
In our modern world of expansive libraries, learning apps and online readers, what I didn’t expect were these facts about American literacy:
In 2017, 45 million Americans could not read above a fifth-grade level.
A stunning 50% of adults could not read at an eighth grade level.
An estimated 1 in 4 children grow up without ever learning to read.source: Literacy Project Foundation
Modern Americans have access to more reading material than perhaps any other generation or culture. So why the surprisingly low literacy rates?
The following statistics seem to reveal a significant key:
The number of books in the home correlates significantly with higher reading scores for children.
Nationally, about half (47%) of children between birth and five years old are read to every day by their parents or other family members.
Children who are read to at least three times a week by a family member are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading compared to children who are read to less than three times a week.source: Literacy Project Foundation
Reading books with kids is the game-changer.
Students who choose what they read and have an informal environment in which to read tend to be more motivated, read more and show greater language and literacy development.
Books contain many words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently in spoken language. Books for kids actually contain 50% more words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently than regular conversation, TV or radio.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that children who were read to frequently are also more likely to: count to 20, or higher than those who were not (60% vs. 44%), write their own names (54% vs. 40%), read or pretend to read (77% vs. 57%).
Higher reading exposure was 95% positively correlated with a growing region supporting semantic language processing in the brain.source: Literacy Project Foundation
So now I was sold on the benefits of reading aloud to my kids.
But I was still the parent who brought home dozens of books from the library and returned most of them weeks later, unread.
Reading to my kids every day required the one thing I felt like I didn’t have:
How to Find Time To Read To Your Kids (Every Day)
To get started, I made a goal for myself: read to my kids for five minutes a day.
This was in additional to our formal school work; reading for the sake of reading.
I started out with just five minutes a day because I knew if I attempted something impressive, I wouldn’t stick with it. (And I’d end up super frustrated.)
Over the years, I’ve tweaked our family routines so that reading aloud to my kids every day actually happens and is something we all enjoy.
Aside from evening or bedtime reading (something short and sweet, like a Little Bear story), the best thing I’ve done for our read aloud time is to make Morning Time a habit several days a week.
I’ve written more about our family’s Morning Time routine right here, but basically this is a time I block out (three days a week, most weeks) to sit down with my kids and
- have devotions together
- review memory work
- read from a chapter book/poetry book/nature book, or whatever theme we’re exploring at the time
- read from textbooks for combined subjects (usually history and science)
As you can see, Morning time isn’t just a “read aloud” time, but it is the main way I stay on track with my reading goals with my kids.
Since this habit is already in place, I don’t have to spend any mental energy trying to fit in five minutes of read aloud time here or there during the day. The space is designated for this to happen on a regular basis, and it does.
And a really awesome perk for my goal-oriented self: we usually end up reading more than five minutes a day. xo
Why it’s worth it.
What are the benefits of reading aloud to your kids?
Well, let me finish telling you about a normal evening in my house.
Three Little Bear tales, and three bedtime snacks and teeth-brushing sessions later, I tuck the boys in bed.
“What are you thankful for today?” I ask as I pull the plaid comforter up to my sons’ chins.
“Little Bear!” the seven-year old shouts.
As I pass my daughters’ bedroom a few minutes later, I spy my fourteen-and-seventeen-year olds, both strewn across their beds with books in hand.
A realization gives me pause: I don’t remember when the girls stopped begging me to read to them and started picking up books for themselves. It just kind of happened.
I wonder when I’ll hear my seven-year old ask Mama, will you read to me? for the last time. A lump catches in my throat as I head downstairs to enjoy a cup of hot tea and a few minutes with my own books.
Not for the first time, I feel thankful that I pushed through and kept the bedtime reading tradition alive for another day.
Bottom line: the benefits of reading aloud are more than just academic.
Reading aloud with my kids
- keeps me engaged in what they’re learning (I’m learning right along with them!)
- weaves tapestries of shared stories, characters, and warm memories into the fabric of our daily lives
- helps keep us on track academically
- expands their vocabularies and shapes their imaginations
- exposes them to goodness, truth, and beauty every day through the medium of stories, Scripture, poetry, and more
- increases their attention span over time
- gives us lots of snuggle time
- creates a regular space of time for me to look into their eyes, listen, and share
- cultivates a comforting rhythm and pattern in our busy days
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to reading with your kids? Drop a comment below and tell me about it.