SALT LAKE CITY -- Long before studies and statistics proved it so U.S. poet, Strickland Gillilan noted the importance of reading aloud to children when he said:
"You may have tangible wealth untold
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be.
I had a Mother who read to me."
86 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems, and 60 percent of prison inmates are illiterate. -firstlady.utah.gov
Today, the “riches” of having parents and other adults read aloud to children have been quantified and recognized as among the most important activities for children from birth.
Based on the research by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the website Homework Help Secrets indicates, “Reading is the single most important skill necessary for a happy, productive and successful life. A child that is an excellent reader is a confident child, has a high level of self esteem and is able to easily make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn.”
Yet, an estimated 10 million children struggle with this “single most important skill” and of those 10 million with reading difficulties, 10 to 15 percent eventually drop out of high school, the NICHD reports.
Even more telling, perhaps, is reading difficulties can be found in at least half of the adolescents and young adults with criminal records and at least half who have a history of substance abuse.
“From reviewing … the potential consequences of poor reading, it is clear that learning to read well is an essential life skill that each parent must ensure that their child acquires,” the NICHD states.
Schools, government agencies, community organizations and private groups and companies have implemented various programs to encourage reading. Yet, studies continue to prove that these outside programs are best as a supplement to early reading aloud to children by parents and other family members.
“Research shows that families play an important role in children’s reading success,” states the “Guide to Reading Aloud to Your Children,” created by Reading is Fundamental, the nation’s largest children’s literacy nonprofit program. The guide explains that by reading aloud with your children, “you are helping them become better readers, better listeners and better students. You are also helping them build vocabulary and language skills and helping them gain knowledge about the world around them.”
Among the benefits of reading aloud to children, a report developed by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, titled “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2000,” includes: “Reading to young children promotes language acquisition and correlates with literacy development and, later on, with achievement in reading comprehension and overall success in school.”
According to the Literacy Connections website, “U.S. Department of Education analysis found that children who were read to at least three times a week by a family member were almost twice as likely to score in the top 25 percent in reading than children who were read to less than three times a week. Just like physical exercise, there are cumulative benefits when you do something regularly.”
The journal, “New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development” published the results of a five-year longitudinal study that examined the relations among home literacy experience, language and literacy development, stating: “Findings indicate that those with highest exposure to reading aloud at home demonstrated advantages in spelling, decoding and alphabet knowledge through Grade 3.”
Books also can encourage children to “follow their dreams and achieve their potential,” according to the RIF website. “Yes, it seems incredible for a book to launch a life, but it happens every day as hungry, inquisitive young minds reach out and grab hold of the new people, places and ideas that books bring them.”
In turn, experts say, reading to children has benefits for the parent as well.
“It’s something you and your children can do together. Reading aloud can be a special time for you and your children to bond. … You’ll get to know each other better as you talk about what you read," the guide states.
Experts encourage parents to continue this activity long beyond preschool.
The Children’s Reading Foundation says, “Once a child begins to read, it is essential to continue reading aloud together,” as reading together offers a springboard for conversation, a way to help children understand and deal with difficult situations and a method for assisting young people to grasp and explore concepts outside their own realm of experience.
Still, with the mounting research that shows the value of reading aloud to children, many don’t have this experience. Instead, The Reading Tub states, “The average kindergarten student has seen more than 5,000 hours of television, having spent more time in front of the TV than it takes to earn a bachelor's degree."
The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of children born in 2001 conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, found that as infants, toddlers and preschoolers, only between one-third and one-half of the children were read to daily by a family member.
Among the popular programs to encourage reading aloud to children is Pizza Hut’s “Give Me 20 Reading Challenge.” Parents and teachers of over 80,000 preschool children took the challenge to read 20 minutes a day, five days a week in the Reading Challenge held between March 7 and April 29 of this year.
The average kindergarten student has seen more than 5,000 hours of television, having spent more time in front of the TV than it takes to earn a bachelor's degree.
Book Adventure, a reading motivation program for children in grades K-8, was created by Sylvan Learning and offers points and prizes as well as quizzes to assess children’s comprehension of the books they read.
Scholastic Books offers summer reading challenges to students and parents. On the Scholastic site parents can find reading tips and activities, sign up to get email updates on their children’s success and download summer book lists.
Local libraries provide summer story time and other activities that encourage reading.
Even a public television series is dedicated to helping foster better reading. Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers is a nine-part series on reading, “created for parents, grandparents, teachers, caregivers and anyone else who touches children’s lives.”
Some of the tips from the PBS program “Between the Lions” include:
- Read to your child every day. If you can't, ask someone else to be your child's designated reader.
- Try to find a regular time and a quiet, comfortable place for reading together.
- Turn off other distractions, such as the radio or television.
- Encourage your children to ask questions about the characters, pictures and words.
- Talk about the story with your child. Did he or she like it? Why?
- Older children enjoy reading aloud, too. They can read their favorite parts or you can take turns reading chapter books.
Bottom line, says Literacy Connections, to give your children the “riches” of reading aloud, “Just do it.”
“With so many ideas on ways to build reading aloud into your routine, there is surely one to fit your lifestyle and busy schedule," the sites says. "There is no greater reward than reading with your children…Read every day with your children – you’ll be glad you did.”
Cecily Markland is a freelance writer, book editor, publicist and author of "Hope: One Mile Ahead" and the children’s book, "If I Made a Bug." She owns Inglestone Publishing and produces a calendar of LDS events in AZ (www.cecilymarkland.com).