Why reading aloud to children is so important

Zara Merali

Reading aloud to your child is one of the most valuable gifts a parent can bestow, and the benefits are far-reaching and long lasting.

Man reading with baby

Amidst the chaos of our frantic modern lives, both children and parents can benefit greatly from this cherished time together. Mobile phones are switched off, “to do” lists are put aside and we snuggle up and slowly turn the pages. These few moments of mindfulness are invaluable for a child’s development. 

Reading aloud to your child encourages them to take their first step towards a lifelong love of literature as they begin to experience the magic of books. They are taken away on far away adventures and they encounter weird and wonderful characters. Their horizons are broadened, as they step outside of their insular worlds and dive into the unknown. Imaginations are ignited and curiosity is kindled. Their literary journey has begun. 

Reading aloud to your child greatly develops a child’s cognitive skills. They learn to concentrate, hypothesize, analyse and interpret.  

“Reading aloud is the best way to help children develop word mastery and grammatical understanding, which form the basis for learning how to read”, according to Professor Dominic Massaro, who studies language acquisition and literacy at the University of California.  

A child’s vocabulary expands at an incredible rate and they begin to build connections between the spoken and written word. Reading aloud to children will help them to recognise and recall sounds and this clearly accelerates their early reading and language skills. 

Stimulate their imagination

Scientific studies have found that reading aloud to children “activates the parts of children’s brains that help with mental imagery and understanding narrative, both of which are key for the development of language and literacy”. Dr Thomas DeWitt of Cincinnati Children’s hospital, speaking to The Huffington Post, refers to a study which found that “MRIs revealed that children from more stimulating home reading environments had greater activity in the parts of the brain that help with narrative comprehension and visual imagery. Their brains showed greater activity in those key areas while they listened to stories”. 

Sharing stories inspires a child to ask questions, as they try to make sense of the world around them. Complex issues can be introduced and explored. The Blue Giant by Katie Cottle is a perfect example of how an enchanting children’s story can indeed tackle a global problem. The issue of plastic pollution is fundamental to the story, but it is explored in such an imaginative and captivating way. Young Meera is the hero of the story, and the reader is hopeful that we can all work together to make the world a better place.  

Help them explore their emotions

Reading aloud to a child also provides a safe place to explore difficult themes and emotions. A child can make a connection with a particular character or relate to a particular experience.  

Ocean Meets Sky gently touches upon the experience of losing a Grandparent. The author sensitively steers the reader to see how important it is to cherish memories of our loved ones. This poetic story is beautifully illustrated, as the reader is taken on a magical, mystical journey. 

Ocean Meets Sky is the perfect stimulus to begin a dialogue about complex emotions. The author handles the theme with such thought and sensitivity, and the reader comes away feeling calmly reassured. 

Time to get silly

Even when a child becomes an independent reader, it is still important to read aloud to your child. The cognitive benefits are amazing, but the most wonderful part of reading aloud to your child is that it is a treasured time to bond.  

The National Literacy Trust states that “Stories provide parents and carers with a structure to help them talk aloud to children and listen to their responses. They help you be silly, overcome adult inhibitions and they are great topics for conversation”.  

A young child readily giggles at funny voices and is completely captivated by facial expressions and dramatic pauses. Their eyes light up with wonder, as they are gripped by your every word. In the blink of an eye, the teenage years are upon us and we  long for the chance to share a book together, when it was so easy to captivate and inspire our little ones’ imaginations. 

Make the most of those precious moments. Switch off your phone, snuggle up, slowly turn the pages, and pass on the literary gift that will last a lifetime.