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Letter: The Power of Reading Aloud

(Editor’s note: Katie Cushman, of Levittown, is a sophomore studying at Stonehill College in Massachusetts. This letter is in response to a classroom assignment about reading theory, the power and benefits of reading aloud.)

I am an elementary education major and for my Reading Theory and Instruction class I recently read The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. I’ve always had a love for reading since I was a little girl, but I never realized the importance of it until after reading this book.

I need to spread the word about the power of reading, especially reading aloud. Before I read The Read Aloud Handbook, I had no idea about the impact that reading aloud could have on a child. Not only does reading aloud broaden a child’s vocabulary, increase their attention span, and improve their test scores, but it also creates a stronger family bond.

Most people are under the false impression that reading and teaching a child to read is the job of the school and of the teacher. This is the farthest from the truth however. Although teachers play a huge role in developing children’s reading skills and creativity, the love of reading begins at home. Trelease explains that a school’s goal should be to create lifetime readers, but instead we create school time readers who never want to read a book outside of the classroom. Therefore, parents must develop the love of reading as early as possible, and there is no age too young or too old to start.

What is great about reading aloud is that it is relatively easy and affordable. The library is a great place to start. Getting a library card is free and children can pick out their own books, as well as books on tape that can be listened to in the car. Picking out books can be an extremely exiting event for kids, which in turn stimulates their desire to read. What is important to remember, is that children should associate reading with pleasure. A lot of times children associate reading with the displeasure of schoolwork, tedious or boring worksheets, activities, and tests. Trelease explains that every time we read to a child we are sending a pleasure message to their brains. In this sense, we are conditioning the child to associate reading with pleasure. “Reading is like riding a bicycle, driving a car, or sewing; in order to get better at it you must do it. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.” Reading is not mastered in one night. It is a continuous process that must be practiced to get more comfortable with it.

Parents and teachers must act as role models to their children and students. If parents and teachers don’t read, how do they expect to get their kids to like it? Children are like little sponges. They soak up what is going on in the world around them, so it is important that adults practice what they preach. If kids see the role models in their life reading, then they too will want to read.

Reading aloud is not just for younger kids; teenagers can also enjoy and benefit from this kind of reading. For teenagers, the prime objectives will usually be motivation to read outside of class, to younger siblings, or even their own children some day. A story in The Read Aloud Handbook that really caught my attention was about high school teacher Nancy Foote. Foote taught in an alternative high school where most of her students were convicted felons on probation, on house arrest, or fighting drug addictions. These students arrived late to class every day with no reason. To find a way to motivate them, Foote started reading the book Frindle by Andrew Clements. Three minutes before the tardy bell rang she would start to read aloud from the book. At first she felt silly because she was reading to an empty classroom, but soon the students began to come to class early to hear what was going to happen next. Not only were the students no longer late for class, but their attendance also improved. The students asked to borrow the book to read themselves, or even come in from lunch to have Foote read it to them. Studying to be a teacher myself, this story really inspired me and I hope one day I can have the same impact on my own students.

I am urging everyone, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers to please get involved and read aloud to your kids! The Read Aloud Handbook is a must read for all teachers and parents. The book is full of great knowledge, personal stories and evidence of the power of reading. Please spread the word to your families and friends. Read aloud and see for yourself how great it really is!

Katie Cushman