Last week, Donna shared about how she read aloud to her girls throughout their childhoods. Today she’s back to talk about the benefits of reading.
In our home we read aloud every day for more than twenty years; we were not surprised by our daughters’ interest in and ability to read. There were, however, other unanticipated positive outcomes that resulted from the many hours of reading together.
First of all, readers become writers. More than twenty-five years ago, Allan Bloom was told by teachers of writing at universities that writing could not be taught to students who do not read. Imagine then, the gift you bestow upon your children just by reading to them.
Secondly, readers acquire a large vocabulary. Jim Trelease, in The Read-Aloud Handbook, calls conversational vocabulary “plain and simple,” and says “it consists of the five thousand words we use all the time” and “another five thousand words we use in conversation less often” (p. 17). Reading books – including and especially children’s books – introduces uncommon words and becomes the basis for the development of an uncommon vocabulary.
“The private language that develops in families through shared book experiences” (Fox, 2001, p. 20) is another benefit of family read aloud times. For instance, Winnie the Pooh inspired our family to be “organdized” for events. We also learned to play “Pooh sticks” and did so from suitable bridges in many different locations. Reading aloud from Milne, Dickens, and others – The Best Christmas Pageant Ever comes to mind – has given our family a set of shared literary friends, experiences, and even phraseology.
Some of these literary friends have become life models. Many children choose their heroes from contemporary culture – sports, film, music, or TV. Bloom observed that “as it now stands, students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing” (p. 67).
Readers become acquainted with villains as well as with heroes. In addition to learning about the height humanity can reach, they are also exposed to its depths. To quote Bloom again, students who are not exposed to worthy literature “have no idea of evil, they doubt its existence,” (p. 67). Questions of good and evil are, in actuality, theological questions. As your children mature, reading aloud will support their spiritual development. Young children can start down that road via the Chronicles of Narnia or the tales of George McDonald. Before you know it, they will listen to you read aloud from the works of Lewis, Spurgeon, Chesterton, Donne, or Dostoevsky. In addition, daily Bible reading is essential for the understanding of many of these classics and the development of a biblical worldview.
So there you have it. We began by being nestled together on the sofa with Peter Rabbit, Mother Goose, or Babar because it was such a satisfying, pleasurable thing to do. Many years later, the scene was much the same, but the books had different titles and little girls had grown into young women. Along the way they developed vocabulary and writing skills, an understanding of human nature and history, depth of character, and family togetherness. Reading aloud together as a family– to slightly paraphrase Mem Fox – changed our lives forever.
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind
Mem Fox, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever
Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook
Donna Johnson is an assistant professor of education at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, SD. She fondly recalls reading aloud during the years she was “everything to” Mariel, Bethany, and Elsa. Now she reads aloud to students in her children’s literature course (The Year of Miss Agnes), sometimes reads aloud to her husband when they travel (The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everything Else), and reads aloud to her granddaughter Ada whenever possible (Chicken Soup with Rice).
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