Following the success of our volunteer information sessions early in the year, we were approached by a number of people interested in volunteering with Give a Book. Although many of our opportunities are in person we still received responses from individuals keen to assist us remotely to spread the pleasure of reading where it is needed most. This includes creating resources for reading groups, starting a fundraiser, or putting design skills to work. We received this wonderful blog from Jude Bingle which is as inspiring as it is informative:
Reading aloud is associated with childhood and it is considered for and about children but the benefits don’t and shouldn’t stop there. There are some concerning trends showing a decline in both the amount and the age to which children are read to.
The Nielsen Book Research’s survey from 2019 showed that only 33% of children aged 0-13 are read to daily at home. This has declined steadily over the last nine years. Children reading to themselves for pleasure has also dropped in previous years. There appears to be a correlation between those children who are regularly read to by a parent and those who choose to read for pleasure. It seems once reading is embedded as a pleasurable thing to enjoy together it naturally prompts reading alone.
The pandemic led to further investigation into the effects of reading aloud. The publisher Egmont Books UK decided to use the confinement of lockdowns to research into children’s reading. They created a reading club to work as a qualitative study involving 42 families, totalling 64 children. It ran over six weeks in the first UK lockdown. Parents agreed to read daily to their children (or together if the child wanted to read). The study included a mix of families of keen readers and those who were not engaged with reading.
The project had positive results for all participants with reading being normalised quickly and noticeably improved wellbeing. Parents were surprised at the difference it made, even in those families that considered themselves keen readers already. There was also an improvement in attainment, which was significant considering many children were missing schoolmates and some could be resistant to home learning. Progress was achieved in all areas, not just English, with significant improvements in vocabulary and comprehension. Imaginations were sparked and listening skills improved.
Reading to young children
By making reading aloud a part of everyday life, there are benefits for all ages. For younger children it assists with language development and encourages bonding with caregivers. Brain development is concentrated in the first three years of life so reading aloud early is ideal. Reading aloud to babies can have a calming effect and as such is perfect as part of a bedtime routine. Books open up the world of stories to all children and can even help with managing emotions. A survey in 2018 from the National Literacy Trust found those children who had found a love for reading were also less likely to suffer from mental health issues. Studies have also found academic success is associated more with reading for pleasure than a parent having a degree. Reading aloud is so significant in childhood it is even used as an indicator of life prospects by sociologists.
Reading to children is easier to manage when they are younger and cannot read for themselves but this may be doing older children a disservice. The majority of parents will have stopped reading to their children by the time they reach the age of 8. Only 19% of children aged between 8 and 10 will be read to daily by an adult. This marks a drop from the previous survey and interestingly there is a corresponding drop in children of 8 and over reading for pleasure. This shift away from reading and increase in screen time could indicate a threat to wellbeing and potentially have a longer term societal impact.
As children get older and are able to read to themselves there is a temptation to leave them to do so. However, even the most confident reader can have a valuable experience when books are read to them. The separation from having to decipher the words allows them to fully experience the story and have their imagination take over. It can also be a doorway to more complex books, introducing vocabulary and sentence structure to children who can easily clarify anything they don’t understand. The bonding experienced from parents reading to babies doesn’t disappear as children get older. If anything it can deepen and become more significant. Enjoying a story together can allow conversations to develop about issues that may otherwise be missed. As children become stronger readers you could even take it in turns to read aloud.
Reading as adults
As adults, silent reading is the normal state. Things changed through history as more people became literate and the speed of silent reading became an advantage. However, reading aloud can provide significant benefits for adults as well as children. Research has shown that reading aloud allows us to remember information better than reading silently. This is the case for all age ranges. Being read to can also help with memory retention.
Reading aloud can help us decipher more complex information, possibly as a result of slowing down. This speed factor is probably the reason reading aloud can help us spot errors we may otherwise miss in our own writing. In addition, the bonding effect reading aloud has between children and caregivers also works for adults. Whether you are the reader or listener, somebody taking the time to share words with another is an intimate, shared experience whatever your age.