I Love to Read! (and I think it’s good for me, too)

When listing out some goals I had in mind for 2011, I mentioned the fact that I think reading with my children is beneficial. I want to share a little more about my love for reading.

First off, I enjoy reading. I read a lot as a child. I took a lot of literature classes in my high school and college years. Reading is a hobby I still enjoy as an adult. Why do I love it so? Many reasons. Exciting new worlds await in the pages of a book. A wealth of information is waiting to be discovered. Stories of people who are like me and people who are very different from me capture my interest and offer me something to think about, something to learn, perhaps offer better understanding among us all. Bottom line – I can learn things and have fun when I read!

Now I am a mother. I started reading to my children when they were still young babies. To some degree, it was probably my way of sharing something I love with them. Since babies learn language by hearing it, I also thought that reading to them would be beneficial because it exposed them to more language. I also kept a running commentary about everything going on for language development, but that’s another story. And I wonder why my daughter talks so much. 🙂

Additionally, the books we read exposed them to shapes, colors, faces, letters, numbers, and the concept that those little symbols represent something more. They see mom or dad turning those symbols on the page into words, sentences, stories!

Reading together is an opportunity for children and caregivers to bond through a shared story and the physical contact that comes along with cuddling up to read. Families develop a common culture through the stories they have shared. Children begin to realize there is a whole big world outside their daily travels.
Some books may reinforce a family’s values. Some books, on the other hand, may provide an opportunity to talk about something that challenges the family’s values.

I believe it was when I was researching homeschooling that I first heard of a book called The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease. I was already sold on reading to my children and had been doing so since their births. I wondered what would be some good, quality choices for young children as I desired to begin reading chapter books aloud. I ordered The Read-Aloud Handbook, thinking it was just going to be a reference for good books to read aloud. I always welcome book ideas, and if someone had compiled a whole book of ideas, I was all for it.

It is that and more. There are lists of various types of books, such as picture books, short novels, and wordless books, with a short description of each and the recommended age range. But, more than half the book turned out to be information about the benefits of reading aloud to children.

“We read to children for all the same reasons we talk with children: to reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform or explain, to arouse curiosity, to inspire. But in reading aloud, we also:

*condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure;
*create background knowledge;
*build vocabulary;
*provide a reading role model.

One factor hidden in the decline of students’ recreational reading is that it coincides with a decline in the amount of time adults read to them. By middle school, almost no one is reading aloud to students. If each read-aloud is a commercial for the pleasures of reading, then a decline in advertising would naturally be reflected in a decline in students’ recreational reading.”
~Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook

I’ve already mentioned in my post about how we decided to homeschool, that I want to encourage my children to become life-long learners and to give them the skills they need to seek out knowledge. Reading is so integral to learning new information. What about background knowledge and vocabulary? Information that we read is easier to comprehend when we have background knowledge on that topic. Reading helps establish more and more background knowledge. Reading also provides exposure to a broader range of words, including more rare words, than conversation alone or television, thereby increasing vocabulary. A child’s vocabulary in the early elementary years is a predictor of reading comprehension and school performance later on (source).

Take a look at the different levels of vocabulary offered in various settings.

The Read-Aloud Handbook contains many statistics and anecdotes supporting the benefits of reading to children, even older children.

Almost as big a mistake as not reading to children at all is stopping too soon. The 1983 Commission on Reading stated that reading aloud is “a practice that should continue throughout the grades.” In this recommendation the commission was really asking us to model the extremely successful marketing strategy of McDonald’s. The fast-food chain has been in business for a half century and has never cut its advertising budget. Every year McDonald’s spends more money on advertising than it did the previous year, which comes to more than $1 million per day. Its marketing people never think, “Everyone has heard our message. They should be coming to us on their own, instead of our spending all this money on advertising.”

Every time we read aloud to a child or class, we’re giving a commercial for the pleasures of reading. But, unlike McDonald’s, we often cut our advertising each year instead of increasing it.

(K)ids usually listen on a higher level than that on which they read. Therefore, children can hear and understand stories that are more complicated and interesting than anything they could read on their own – which has to be one of God’s greatest blessings for first-graders. The last thing you want first-graders thinking is that what they’re reading in first grade is as good as books are going to get! First-graders can enjoy books written on a fourth-grade level, and fifth-graders can enjoy books written on a seventh-grade level. (This is, of course, contingent upon the social level of the books’ subject matter; some seventh-grade material is above the fifth-grader’s social experience and may be off-putting.)
~Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook

I’ve mentioned that we are reading The Chronicles of Narnia series aloud as a family. My daughter could probably read them on her own. My son, on the other hand, could not manage reading at this level, but he sure does enjoy listening. I’m happy that he is not shy about asking questions as needed. If he hears a word that he doesn’t know, he will go right ahead and ask what it means. He is a perfect example of someone listening to and enjoying a story at a higher grade level than he would be able to read. I also think it is a richer experience for my daughter this way. She reads a lot on her own, but there is something special about the stories we share as a family.
I really could go on and on. I do recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease, and Honey For a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt, for anyone looking for great book ideas for children. I’m sure you can tell that this is something I feel strongly about.

Do you enjoy reading? Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? What are some of your favorites?


7 thoughts on “I Love to Read! (and I think it’s good for me, too)

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