As I was meeting with our school principal recently, a small, blond-haired boy arrived in her doorway with his teacher. “Jeffrey has something special to tell you,” the teacher said.
With a huge smile on his face, Jeffrey shared the news that he had read at home every night for the last 50 days. We quickly gave him high fives to celebrate his progress and engagement as a reader.
“Who reads with you at home, Jeffrey?” Principal Jennifer McGee inquired.
“My mom,” he said, beaming with pride. In that moment, Jeffrey reminded us of the impact reading aloud can have on our children.
On February 2, the Maine Department of Education launched the statewide Read to ME Challenge with the support of 75 partners. People are encouraged to share their time reading with a child through social media using the hashtag #ReadtoME or #ReadaloudME and to challenge others to do the same. The goal of this campaign is to raise public awareness of the impact reading aloud has on a child’s literacy growth.
15 minutes a day
For years, I’ve lamented that I don’t have time to exercise. I have three kids. I’m a working mom. I’m exhausted at the end of the day. The list of excuses goes on and on. Last year, as I was talking with a colleague about how I wish I had more time to exercise, she said “I think people can make time for what matters to them.” Powerful advice.
I’ve never questioned the need to make time to read to my children every day. Even though it’s always been part of our bedtime routine, I can commiserate with the many parents who struggle to find quiet time in a schedule filled with after-school activities, sporting events and homework.
How can we make time for reading to our children when our days are filled with endless to-do lists and scheduled activities? There are simple ways to capture 15 minutes in a busy day, such as starting the day by sharing a book or a chapter together if you have a busy evening planned, or keeping books in the car so you can read while traveling or waiting for appointments. Time is available to all of us; we just need to claim it.
The many benefits of reading aloud
There is a great body of evidence that supports the impact reading aloud can have on a child. The research shows that reading aloud can foster a child’s language, literacy skills and brain development. If a parent reads aloud to a child 15 minutes a day for five years, it will add up to more than 460 hours of reading.
A study by Scholastic in 2014 reports that more than 54 percent of children between birth and age 5 are read to daily. Sadly, this percentage declines to 34 percent for children age 6 to 8, and 17 percent for ages 9 to 11.
Here are just a few of the research findings that highlight the importance of reading aloud:
Children learn to read by being read to. The Maine Libra Foundation established the Raising Readers program in 2000 with the goal of giving all Maine children at least a dozen books from birth to age 5. To date, this program has given more than 2 million books to young children across our state. The act of providing families with books beginning at birth reinforces that literacy and language development begin far before a child enters kindergarten.
My 17-month-old daughter Olivia knows that our nightly bedtime routine involves reading a small stack of board books. By starting to read aloud to children at a young age, we can send the message that sharing books is a fun activity and a time for bonding. Olivia has learned to turn pages, point to pictures and even laugh at the right moments in her favorite books through the time we spend reading to her each day.
Reading to children models reading as an enjoyable lifelong activity. This fall our school librarian, Amy Grenier, passed me the book “Dory Fantasmagory” by Abby Hanlon, with the recommendation that it would be the perfect book for my daughter Grace. We quickly fell in love with Dory and devoured the first two books in this series during our nightly reading time.
Next, we found “The Princess in Black” series by Shannon and Dean Hale. Grace was so excited to stuff this book into her backpack so that she could share it with Mrs. Grenier as a book recommendation. Through our nightly reading routine and relationship with our school librarian, Grace has discovered that readers recommend books to one another.
Reaching out to your child’s teacher or your school librarian for a book title or series that matches your child’s interests is a great way to find the right book to read together.
Even after children can read on their own, reading aloud allows them to access stories that are more complex than they can read independently. My son, Jacob, who is in fourth grade, often enjoys quietly reading in bed before turning out the light. Although he can read many books on his own, we still enjoy the opportunity to read books together. Currently, we are finishing the Newbery Award winning book, “The Crossover,” by Kwame Alexander, which has been Jacob’s first experience navigating a novel in verse. We’ve enjoyed reading this book together and talking about the challenges the main character experiences, including the loss of a parent.
Because a child’s listening level is often higher than his or her reading level, reading aloud provides an opportunity to share books with children that would be too difficult for them to tackle independently. As a parent, I’ve found that our read-aloud time has offered many opportunities for conversations about life.
Reading aloud builds a community. As a teacher, reading aloud was my favorite part of the school day. Through our conversations about characters and events in books, my class discussed topics such as empathy, perseverance and how to solve problems. I could share countless stories of favorite read alouds that I’ve shared with classes through the years.
One moment that I can vividly remember was during a read aloud of “Pictures of Hollis Woods” with a group of fifth graders. This middle-grade novel by Patricia Reilly Giff had me in tears as I read the final chapter to my students.
“Mrs. Moody, why are you crying? It’s a happy ending!” exclaimed Adam.
In the conversation that followed his comment, the class discussed how as readers we can become connected to characters and feel the emotions of the events in the story. Our classroom read alouds are one of the best opportunities to talk to our students about life lessons.
As teachers, we must preserve time to read aloud daily amid a culture that emphasizes achievement and test scores. Creating readers, engaged learners, and caring citizens is the result of sharing books as a classroom community.
How to Get Involved
My hope for the Read to ME Challenge and public awareness campaign is that reading aloud can become a daily routine in homes and classrooms across our state. The simple act of reading aloud is one of the most successful ways to build a child’s literacy and foster a love of reading.
You can participate by sharing a moment through social media of reading to your own child at home, or volunteering to read in a classroom or library. If you are unable to complete the challenge, you can consider donating a book to your local school or public library.
Reading aloud daily provides two of the greatest gifts we can give to our children: the gift of time and a love of books.
Shelly Moody is an instructional coach at Atwood Primary School and Williams Elementary School in Oakland. She is the 2011 Maine Teacher of the Year.