A regular read-aloud routine is wonderful for bonding and instilling a love of literature—but reading to children does so much more, from building vocabulary to fostering overall language development.
Since younger children are generally only able to decode a more limited number of words, hearing words is highly impactful in expanding their vocabulary, and reading aloud can help them gain this auditory exposure. As children mature and learn to read themselves, they will be introduced to new vocabulary on their own—but older children enjoy being read to as well! It may be that a book on a high-interest topic is just beyond an older child’s decoding ability, or simply that they want to take a break from concentrated focus and appreciate listening to a story. Reading aloud is an engaging way to share language and build vocabulary for all ages.
Reading to children will also acquaint them with the flow of descriptive language and using known words in novel ways. Consider this quote from Lions at Lunchtime, part of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series:
He saw a huge grassy plain, a wide river, and tons of birds and animals—more than he had ever imagined in one place.
This passage paints an image of the grasslands in Africa describing them as a plain, a term children may not be familiar with in this context. This can lead to an exploration of homonyms and their multiple meanings.
Exposure to new words is a prime opportunity to discuss synonyms and colloquialisms, as well. Consider this excerpt from I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 by Lauren Tarshis:
An eerie silence surrounded him, and George’s heart skipped a beat as he realized that the engines had been turned off. The quiet rumbling had stopped.
Skipped a beat illustrates an idiomatic expression, and while children may be familiar with the word scary, eerie may be new to them. Providing further use examples of new words and turns of phrase will help vocabulary become internalized. Eerie can be used to describe things that feel frightening, like a haunted house. Continuing with that example, as you’re walking through the door of a haunted house you might feel a moment of fear-induced stillness which could be described as your heart skipping a beat. Explaining and modeling how words can be used will help children incorporate them into their own speech.
Reading aloud can also pique children’s interest in a new sport, hobby, or geographical location. In Roberta Edwards’ Who is Jane Goodall?, part of the Who Was..? series, the author describes working on an archaeological dig:
She didn’t know anything about digging for fossils. But she was a fast learner. For hours every day, Jane picked away at the clay and rocks with small tools. Sometimes she unearthed a bone of a creature from the distant past.
For the child who always wondered about where the dinosaur bones in the museum came from, reading something like this together may inspire a passion, or even a career path. Has your child asked about what makes planes fly, or why the sun shines during the day and the moon at night? Read-aloud books can be a fun way to start discussions about science, history, or other areas of interest.
In short, reading aloud is an avenue for sharing the joy of a story while also building essential language skills. We’ve included some additional resources below: