When children enter their school-age years and begin to recognise words or read books, many parents may feel that the children should be capable of reading by themselves or be given opportunities to read independently. As a result, they may stop reading to their children.
While children can learn to read independently, there is still value for parents to read to them. SPD’s speech therapist Tan Jia Hui shares the benefits of reading to children and some reading tips that apply to both children with and without special needs.
1) Enhances your child’s vocabulary
Research1 has shown that children pick up words more easily when reading with their parents. When we read to our children, we can explain unfamiliar words, or teach them how to work out the meaning of the word. Doing so allows our children to learn the new word, while helping them to better understand what they see on the page. For older children, they may even learn how to apply similar strategies when they are reading by themselves.
When you encounter an unfamiliar word while reading with your child, offer a brief and simple explanation of its meaning. For example, if you encounter the word “blunder”, you might say: “Blunder means mistake. The child made a mistake.”
You can also explain how you figured out the meaning of the word. Using the same example of “blunder”, you might say: “The sentence before “blunder” says ‘He went the wrong way’. Then the next sentence says ‘Tom felt silly for his mistake’. So we know that “blunder” means mistake.”
2) Encourages your child to read more challenging materials
Based on the child’s interest areas, you can suggest books that are interesting and pegged at a more challenging level. For instance, these could be stories with a more complex story plot. This allows children to read literature at a slightly higher level, and thus develop higher-level language skills.
Think about some topics that your child is interested in. Select a book on one of the topics. Flip to one of the pages of the book and have your child point out the difficult words. Use the five-finger rule to determine if the book is the right level for your child. For instance, if there are two to three difficult words within a page, the level is just right for your child to read independently. If there are five or more difficult words within a page, it is too difficult for your child. If the book has four difficult words within a page, it may be a suitable choice for reading together.
3) Improves your child’s reading comprehension
Research2 has shown that the ability to read text accurately and quickly (i.e. reading fluency) affects children’s reading comprehension. Children with learning difficulties often have difficulties figuring out the words on the page. When children are not able to read fluently, most of their mental resources are spent trying to sound out the words on the page. This leaves them with very little resources to figure out the meaning of the story. Thus, when we read, our children can focus on understanding the story.
In addition, children get to learn how new words are pronounced. They also get to hear the rhythm of speech that goes with reading out loud.
Read each paragraph out aloud while reading and slide your finger under each word as you go along. Be as animated as you can while you read so that your child can picture what is going on. At the end of the reading activity, ask your child to select his favourite 100-word section. Encourage him to read his favourite section out to the rest of the family at a different time of the day. Doing so will provide him with more opportunities to practise reading fluently.
4) Provides a platform to discuss life’s lesson
As our children get older, they are thrown into many new and different situations. When exposed to these unfamiliar events, our children may not always know what to do, since no one has taught them.
Some issues like bullying are also very hard to bring up. Even if they are bullied, many children may feel uncomfortable sharing these issues with us. On the other hand, talking about a character in a story depersonalises the issues.
Thus, by reading to our children, we are provided with a convenient platform to talk about these issues. In addition, our children are much more likely to participate, since they feel less guarded when talking about someone else. Using the characters, we can discuss the characters’ perspectives, emotions and motives. We can also talk about the consequences of different courses of action.
Look for a book that is related to the theme that you would like to discuss with your child. For example, if you want to talk about lying, you can read about “The Child Who Cried Wolf”. “Aesop’s Fables” contains a good variety of life’s lessons ranging from being well prepared for rainy days (The Grasshopper and the Ant) to not being greedy (The Goose that laid the golden egg). If there is a particular theme you are looking for, a quick search online will bring up a variety of titles for your consideration.
When reading, talk about the characters’ perspectives and explore the results of different courses of action. Questions like “Why do you think he did this?”, “How might he be feeling when X happened?” can prompt your child to look more deeply into how thoughts and feelings can guide actions.
5) Fosters a sense of closeness
As our children get older and start to exert their independence, there may be fewer opportunities to spend time together. Having a regular reading session before bedtime presents a good opportunity for parent-child bonding.
Research3 has shown that talking about personal issues helps people to feel closer to each other. By relating what they have read in the stories to their own personal experiences, it helps to bring us and our children closer together.
How you can apply this:
Make time to read with your child today. It does not have to be long. Ten to fifteen minutes daily is good enough. While reading, relate the story back to real events in your child’s life. For example, if you are reading about a trip to the zoo, you might say something like “Remember the time we went to the zoo? We had so much fun!”
6) Helps children enjoy learning
By reading to our children, we allow them to immerse into the stories and acquire knowledge found within the pages. This allows them to ignite an interest in reading. As their reading skills develop, this initial spark may then grow into a love for reading.
To help your children enjoy reading and learning even more, choose books on topics that you know they enjoy. Even better, bring them to the library and let them choose their own books. Then, go through their selection to make sure that the books are at a suitable level for them.
There is no reason to stop reading to our children even when they have learnt how to read independently. In fact, the reasons to continue doing so are plenty. Therefore, let’s pick up a book and start reading to them regularly.
- Fiala, C. L., & Sheridan, S. M. (2003). Parent involvement and reading: Using curriculum-based measurement to assess the effects of paired reading. Psychology in the Schools, 40, 613–626.
- Herrell, A. L., & Jordan, M. (2005). 50 Strategies for Improving Vocabulary, Comprehension and Fluency: An Active Learning Approach. Merrill Prentice Hall.
- Sprecher, S., Treger, S., & Wondra, J. D. (2013). Effects of self-disclosure role on liking, closeness, and other impressions in get-acquainted interactions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(4), 497–514.
- Biemiller, A., & Boote, C. (2006). An effective method for building meaning vocabulary in primary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 44-62.
- Harris, J., Golinkoff, R. M., Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2011). Lessons from the Crib for the Classroom: How Children Really Learn Vocabulary. In Newman, S. B., & Dickinson, D. K. Handbook of Early Literacy Research Volume 3. The Guilford Press.
- Daniels, H. (2005). An Introduction to Vygotsky (2nd Ed.). Routledge.
- Valdez-Menchaca, M. C. , & Whitehurst, G. J. (1992). Accelerating language development through picture book reading: A systematic extension to Mexican day care. Developmental Psychology, 28, 1106–1114.
- Herrell, A. L., & Jordan, M. (2005). 50 Strategies for Improving Vocabulary, Comprehension and Fluency: An Active Learning Approach (2nd Ed.). Merrill Prentice Hall.