The Power of the Read Aloud

Books, Building Comprehension & Confidence

Reading aloud to your child on a daily basis is one of the most powerful tools you can use for building critical thinking, cognitive skills and confidence. That will likely strike you as either a bold statement, or way too simplistic. Regardless, the amount of research supporting this claim is vast. Today I’ll share just one discovery as it relates to critical thinking from a study* led by Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher, and director of the Reading Literacy Discovery Center. When studying brain scans of preschool aged children who were regularly read aloud to versus children who were not, Dr Hutton’s work showed something noteworthy. Children who were read to showed increased activity in the left posterior hemisphere of the brain (the part of our brains where visual and auditory processing occur) — even when they were read a book without any pictures. What does this mean? It suggests that children who are read to regularly show a greater capacity to create meaning from words using their imagination. And imagination is a foundational piece of critical thinking.

It kinda seems too easy to think that reading a story can have such a profound impact on a child. Yet 20 years in schools has shown me the following:

  • most people love being read to — little people and big people;
  • one of the quickest ways to calm a classroom full of children is to pull out a book and start reading;
  • stories are a gateway for broadening perspective and enabling children to envision a solution even without having all the information;
  • and — perhaps most importantly — it’s never too late to start reading aloud to a child.

Reading Aloud

Whether you’re just getting started, or you’ve been reading to your child since the womb, here are a few reminders.

  1. Picture books: These types of books are great because kids can use the pictures to help determine meaning. While reading, take the time to explore the pictures and make connections from what the story is saying to what the pictures are showing.
  2. Repetition: If your child wants to read the same book over and over and over again — that’s great! The repetition is helping his comprehension. After a few times, invite him to read you the story. While a preschool-aged child most likely won’t be able to actually “read” the story to you, thanks to the repetition and the ability to use the pictures to create meaning, he’s likely to confidently retell you the story with pretty good accuracy nonetheless.
  3. Modeling: Don’t worry if a book is too easy or too hard. Part of what you’re doing in reading aloud is modeling that taking time out of a day to read is important. You’re showing your child that it’s enjoyable, it’s informative, and therefore worth spending time doing.
  4. Listening: If your personal home library isn’t that big, consider listening to a book “on tape.” (Sites like www.audible.com, are a good resource for this.) The key here is to listen to the story with your child. Part of the magic is creating a shared experience — now you have a story you can talk about together.

With Your Child Building Meaning

Draw! If time is on your side, take the time to retell the story you read by drawing your own renditions of the story you read aloud. Many people are visual learners, so even if a child copies the pictures in the book, the act of re-telling the story by drawing is enhancing comprehension. It also stimulates imagination, though, so you may get a different version of the story as the child’s mind considers other possibilities. An added benefit is drawing also strengthens children’s fingers and hands, improving their fine motor skills.

The Power of the Read Aloud
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