Most children's books are enjoyable for children and adults alike. Children are never too young to be read to. In fact, some mothers start reading to their children before they are born. What is remarkable is that research indicates unborn babies hear their mothers and react to their voices (see DeCasper, Lecanuet, Busnel, & Granier-Deferre, 1994). In addition to building a bond between parent and child, daily reading to preschool children may be the single most important thing parents can do to improve their children's chances for success in school. Children's book editor Janet Schulman (1998) described the educational and emotional benefits of reading to children with her metaphor that "books help give children a leg up on the ladder of life". Of course, nurturing parents should continue to read to their children after they start school and for as long as they will listen—which, if all goes well, will be throughout the elementary school years.
Children are never too old to be read to either. I remember working with a talented student teacher who was placed in a challenging classroom of sixth graders, all of whom had been identified as being at risk of failing or dropping out of school. The student teacher did an excellent job with them, though they were often rowdy. One day when the classroom teacher was out, I walked into the classroom, and the first thing I noticed was that I could hear only one voice, and the kids were all awake! In fact, they had their eyes glued on the student teacher, who was reading them Stone Soup (Brown, 1989), a picture book fairy tale.
Unfortunately, not all parents read to their children on a regular basis. First, not all parents read. Also, some parents must work more than one job, leaving little time to read to their children. Others have the time and ability to read aloud, yet do not see the advantages—both affective and cognitive—of reading to children. Some parents are eager to read to their children but do not know where to start, so they resort to grocery store books. I recommend reviewing Best Books for Beginning Readers (Gunning, 1998) and Read to Me: Raising Kids Who Love to Read (Cullinan, 1992). These books and others at your library or bookstore will not only provide descriptions of numerous quality children's books but also tell you how to maximize your reading time.
Following are a few of the specific benefits children derive from reading and listening to books:
- Strengthening a bond between the child and adult reader
- Experiencing the pleasure of escaping into a fantasy world or an exciting adventure
- Developing a favorable attitude toward books as an enrichment to their lives
- Stimulating cognitive development
- Gaining new vocabulary and syntax
- Becoming familiar with story and text structures
- Stimulating and expanding their imaginations
- Stretching attention spans
- Empathizing with other people's feelings and problems
- Learning ways to cope with their own feelings and problems
- Widening horizons as they vicariously learn about the world
- Developing an interest in new subjects and hobbies
- Understanding the heritage of their own and other cultures
- Learning new knowledge about nature
- Bringing history to life
- Stimulating aesthetic development through illustrations
- Exploring artistic media used in illustrations
Some educators teach reading through trade books—children's literature—instead of using the reading textbooks known as basal readers. In such classrooms, all the children may read the same book, or they may select their own literature to read. Some teachers provide a list of books from which children can choose. Children's literature is surely more interesting to read than basal readers, which typically contain only excerpts of books or picture book stories minus most of the pictures, and children's literature is definitely more interesting than the basal reading programs' workbooks, worksheets, and board work (read "bored work"). Children learn to read by reading, and what better thing is there for children to read than the literature created just for them?
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