The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents begin reading aloud to their children starting in infancy. But what happens when children become readers themselves?
Is there a benefit to encouraging children to read out loud, as well as silently? PBS NewsHour recently held a Facebook chat on the benefits of reading aloud with Pam Allyn, founding director of LitWorld, Dr. Perri Klass, national medical director of the nonprofit Reach Out and Read, and Maggie McGuire, vice president of Scholastic’s kids and parents websites. Read excerpts from the conversation below. Excerpts have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
PBS NewsHour: Q1: What are the benefits of reading aloud?
Scholastic: It opens a world of possible. Discuss what you think about the news, favorite articles or a story you’re reading with them. Asking their opinion creates a sense of autonomy. You’ll start to see them share their favorite stories you’ve read together or apart. You will see it in their creative writing, art and beyond. It’s really wonderful.
Pam Allyn: This idea of text interaction is so crucial. The child is experiencing the connection between the text and the ideas he or she as a reader is building and creating.
I also like what Scholastic says about the connection to writing. Reading aloud is a way to show children models of great writing and to really realize how much craft goes into that writing.
Scholastic: We have proof kids love it. According to our “Kids & Family Reading Report,” 40 percent of kids ages 6-11 whose parents stopped reading aloud to them, said they wished their parents continued.
Reach Out And Read National Center: As a pediatrician, I give many pieces of advice that parents find difficult to carry out. One wonderful part about giving parents the guidance around reading aloud is that they come back and say: “I love it, my child loves it, he wants to do it every day, I look forward to these moments, so do my children.” It becomes a habit in the best possible way!
PBS NewsHour: Q2: Does reading aloud affect children’s educational outcomes beyond literacy?
Reach Out And Read National Center: Absolutely! First of all, let’s remember that reading is the key to school success in many areas beyond “reading” as a subject. A great deal of children’s school success (math problems, social studies, pretty much any subject) is predicated on their ability to get information efficiently out of printed text – so when you’re comfortable with the written word, you’re on track for a variety of subjects.
Scholastic: It gets kids to build critical thinking, comprehension and analytic skills. It taps their imagination and creativity. You are shaping multiple types of intelligences when engaging in reading aloud – and sharing stories and their meaning.
PBS NewsHour: Q3: What impacts a population’s literacy rates?
Pam Allyn: Poverty is a huge predictor of children’s literacy rates. It is a staggering link. Access to safe learning spaces, to summer and out of school time learning and to authentic quality children’s books also profoundly impacts literacy rates.
Megan Karges: Pam Allyn, as you said, summer can be such a critical gap in children’s learning lives. What should teachers and parents do before summer arrives to get ready and prepared for summer?
Pam Allyn: Megan Karges, summer is a huge gap and research shows that children can experience what is called “the summer slide,” where they actually fall back as readers. We can all take action on this by making sure children have access to books over the summer and that rituals like the read aloud will continue every day throughout the summer.
Reach Out And Read National Center: When we talk about literacy in our own country, of course, we aren’t talking about a simple divide – some people literate, others not – we’re really talking about levels of proficiency, levels of comfort – how people are able to use written language effectively in their daily lives, can they learn using written language, get the information they need from written language, hold jobs which require written language. I’d also like to speak to the advantages of creating positive associations with books that children get from reading aloud. You really want children to arrive at school with the strong sense that books are sources of pleasure and information.
Pam Allyn: Yes, Reach Out And Read National Center, very good point. I think we often define literacy as simply the decoding on the page but in fact those levels of comfort and also stamina are huge. Closing the literacy gap means we have to work on all these factors. By far the simplest to solve, because it can happen in both home and school relatively quickly and at low cost, is access to quality books that will compel and engage a child. It is such a simple solution to closing the literacy gap, but we haven’t made nearly enough progress ensuring every child has access from babyhood on.
PBS NewsHour: Q4: What is the potential of reading aloud as a tool to promote social change?
Reach Out And Read National Center: Helping children to grow up understanding written language and its power is helping them to grow up with the ability to take part in the larger civic conversation. Children who aren’t comfortable with written discourse are at risk of being marginalized, of not being heard. So when I look at my patients, even the very young ones who aren’t talking yet, I really do believe that by reading aloud their parents are helping them along the path to civic engagement. More directly, one of the ideas behind Reach Out and Read, and the idea of literacy promotion in pediatric practice, has always been that it gives us a way to help parents give their children a good start and address some of the disparities we all worry about before they happen, helping children grow up with skills that shift the odds for success in school.
Pam Allyn: I like what Reach Out And Read National Center says about how all parents can give their children a good start; that is very powerful. And that every parent can be empowered to make change in their child’s life. Even if a parent is not fully comfortable as a reader, reading aloud through the pictures of a picture book is a great and important thing to do. Reading is a core ingredient to close the poverty gap. It is one of those rare things that demonstrates social change in the moment of its happening.
BookMentors: Agree that being heard and wanting to be heard is a very important outcome of reading aloud.
PBS NewsHour: Q5: Are all books created equal? How important is the content and quality of reading material?
Reach Out And Read National Center: I think we all know that there are certain children’s books that children respond to, generation after generation. Parents also know that individual children connect with the most unexpected books. So one part of the answer has to be, follow your child’s cues! When we talk about pediatric advice at the two year-old visit, for example, one of the things we tell parents is, she may want to hear the same book over and over and over!
Pam Allyn: I always say that any book that a child loves to read is a good book. I look for books with authentic characters and ideas that speak to how a child views the world. It is also important for every child to have access to books in his or her native language where possible, and to see books with characters who remind the child of him or herself in some deep way. Quality books can be both mirrors and windows – the child sees himself in the character or in the content of the text, the mirror, and also that the child can see the world in a new way, the window. E.B. White is a good example of the complexity of defining quality. On the surface, “Charlotte’s Web” seems simple. There are not a lot of long sentences and flowery language. But his writing style and empathy with the world of a child made him a legend.
Scholastic: When it comes to quality, our lens as adults for selecting books for our kids should take into consideration what will be appealing to them as much as other criteria like awards, ratings and reviews. You are more likely to have a frequent reader if they get to choose what they read. (Source: Kids & Family Reading Report)
Lynda Tocci: What is the impact of technology – tablets, phones and more screens – on kids’ reading habits?
Reach Out And Read National Center: The technology question is a very interesting one for all of us, but whatever we do, we have to keep the parent interaction piece at the center for young children
Scholastic: Reading ebooks and print both count! Giving kids access to great stories and reading experiences is priority number one. For some kids who are not on their peers’ reading level (especially older kids), reading on a device offers them anonymity and allows them to read something they may not want to share publicly.
Pam Allyn: Lynda Tocci, I agree with Reach Out And Read National Center, the key here is to sustain and illuminate the parent interaction no matter what tool is being used. The impact is a bit unclear right now. My overall view is that any tool is a good tool if it’s providing access to more books and opportunities to interact and engage deeply with texts.
Cynthia Buck: Technology has helped us. My husband reads ebooks to/with one of our granddaughters over the phone once or twice a week. She gets on her tablet, he on his, and you can hear the happiness from both sides. Favorite books are then bought in print in order to keep forever.
PBS NewsHour: Q6: What tips can you offer parents for getting an active child to sit and read aloud?
Reach Out And Read National Center: We talk about this all the time with parents of toddlers! Find stories that have rhyme and rhythm, be prepared to read a page or two then act it out, or let the child run around and come back. Do not make reading a test that the child will fail.
Pam Allyn: At our LitWorld Harlem LitCamps we combine animal themed read alouds with morning yoga. The kids do special poses for each animal character.
Scholastic: Read to them as they play. Read a book your child can act out. For little ones, Eric Carle’s “From Head to Toe” is one of many examples. Another suggestion is to read dynamic books that include flaps, different textures, and other novel items for your child to engage with physically. Finally, try audio books. Pop one in the car while you go for a drive. You can even hand the hardcopy to your kids so they can follow along and listen.
PBS NewsHour: Q7: What advice would you give to parents for keeping older children interested in reading aloud together?
Pam Allyn: Great question! My advice is to follow their interests and passions and to provide a wide variety of texts (not just chapter books but also informational texts) to read aloud. Read aloud from magazines and poetry. Poetry can be so appealing and it’s often short! You can tuck into the busy schedules of older kids. Also, mixing up the times of day or night to read aloud, maybe not the bedtime story motif anymore, but a Saturday morning ritual, or while you are preparing dinner together.
Reach Out And Read National Center: Sometimes in the pediatric office, we’ll use the arrival of a new baby or the presence of a younger sibling to make the case for reading with the older child. We talk about having an older sibling read to the younger one. We talk to parents about how an older child may want to listen to favorite books being read to a younger one, but also how a younger child may want to listen to “older” books as well.