Studies have shown reading aloud to children from a very early age is one of the best things you can do for them.   It builds language and literacy skills, strengthens overall brain development and thinking skills, and establishes healthy social-emotional relationships. It teaches even the youngest children about the world around them. Prior to being able to read themselves, infants and toddlers benefit from listening to you read. They learn about communication through tone and inflection, build vocabulary, listening, and memory skills, and are introduced to important concepts such as letters, number, shapes, and colors. When they are read to while snuggled in your lap, they also are engaging in healthy emotional bonding and strengthening interpersonal connections. All of these benefits together increase the likelihood of developing appropriate learning and literacy skills and enhance the probability of academic success in school. 

There are other beneficial components of reading aloud to children, as well. By listening to stories, whether they are classic fairy tales or moralistic fables, children can be exposed to historical and cultural anecdotes, taught important social and ethical lessons, and actively engage their imaginations to visualize the story. Plus, listening to a story is simply fun when it’s read with enthusiasm.  The key is in picking the right stories to read aloud.

So what makes a good read aloud book? 

Keep in mind there are thousand and thousands of books available.  How do you determine which ones are the best to read aloud? For young children, stories with repetitive or rhyming patterns, interesting dialect, silly words, and colorful pictures are fun for both the reader and the audience. When the reader is particularly enthusiastic with using accents, exaggerating the pronunciation of interesting words, or inventing different voices for the various characters, the story can really come to life. Using emotion and appropriate facial expressions while reading aloud also further develops communication skills and introduces social cues to young listeners.

For slightly older children, many books contain simple stories with rich language, powerful imagery, and exciting storylines, but they may be written at a higher reading level than young readers are developmentally ready to tackle independently. That doesn’t mean they aren’t able to listen to it and thoroughly enjoy it. Listening comprehension is often more developed than independent reading skills, so children will be able to listen to stories before they can read them on their own. Entertaining chapter books make great read alouds and can keep elementary school aged children engaged for days or weeks at a time. As long as the topic is still appropriate, most children are capable of listening to and understanding books a couple of grade levels above their current class level.

Read alouds aren’t just for early readers, though.  There are appropriate read aloud books for all ages. Many teachers incorporate them all the way through middle school and even high school.  This keeps students who don’t enjoy reading on their own, or perhaps aren’t strong readers, engaged in the book and able to discuss the plot and important literary components. Having the teacher (and/or other students) read with expression and dramatic inflection can help them gain meaning they might not glean on their own. Whether the class is studying the classics, poetry, or modern novels, reading them aloud can bring them to life for the students and allow them to fully address the academic standards even if they aren’t capable of reading or understanding the material on their own.

Books can open the world to our children. Reading aloud to them is a powerful tool allowing them to explore, experience, imagine, and learn regardless of where they live, what their socio-economic status is, or what issues they may face elsewhere in their life.