Back before my homeschooling days, my oldest son really struggled with his reading. He hated reading and it was difficult to get him to read in the evenings. His teachers said he should read at least 20 minutes every night to improve his “reading scores.” This was difficult to enforce with a strong-willed child and forcing a child to do something they do not want to do is like pulling teeth. At least for me.

My husband told us that some of his favorite childhood memories are of his mom reading novels to him as a kid. So, as part of our effort to improve our relationship with him, we decided to start reading novels to him at night before bed. My husband and I would switch off reading to him and our other children. We chose novels in which he, being our oldest, would be interested. Our children quickly took hold of this tradition and began cherishing these moments at night that we spent reading TO them. We did not require them to follow along in their own books. They were free to just listen and enjoy. It became such a beloved tradition that we have continued it over the years.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that right after we started reading to him consistently every night, he began reporting that he was getting awards at school for the most improved reading scores. This continued for several years. He not only caught up to his grade reading level but surpassed it. His reading comprehension levels went way up as well.

We changed NOTHING else. We didn’t make him read extra on his own or do any special curriculum to increase his reading levels. NOTHING. The only thing we changed during those years that we saw such improvement was our practice of reading to HIM at night before bed. We spent 20 minutes or more reading each night. Now we read close to an hour or more each night to our children. Additionally, we read with them throughout the day for homeschool and they read on their own too. We found this superpower of reading to our children helped in so many ways that we continue this tradition full tilt.

I believe that the success our children have experienced in their reading can be ascribed to this simple practice of reading to them every night for several reasons. Here are just a few:

  1. Hearing words you may not know read aloud in sentences increases vocabulary exponentially as you understand the words through context. Reading them yourself, you might skip over an unknown word because you don’t know how to pronounce it. You might possibly piece together the gist of the sentence, but not the really the word itself. Having someone put the right intonation on new words as they are read in sentences helps our brain understand the words so much better. I remember in my young elementary days having a large vocabulary for my age because my parents would read scriptures to our family each night. I distinctly remember knowing certain words on our vocabulary lists at school because I had heard them in my living room at night during scripture study. I learned their meanings further as we would discuss the things we read together as a family.
  2. When you hear someone read to you, someone who can read more fluently and use their intonation to help infer meanings to new words, your brain starts creating pathways to better understand the unfamiliar words. I know that when I am reading and come to a word I don’t instantly recognize; I think about how that word might compare to words I have heard before. By reading novels to your kids, you are exposing them to words that are above their reading level. Then, when they get to that point of reading higher-level books, they have already heard those words and how they sound, and it makes it easier for them to read fluently. (Maybe you have even paused in your reading to look up the definition of a word and discussed it!)
  3. Reading to your children creates a love of books and reading. Someone who loves books and reading will automatically work harder and read more. It inspires them to love reading. You won’t have to push them as much to do that work on their own to become a good reader. I love what Ralph Moody says in his book “Little Britches.” He talks about his mom reading to them in the evening and on Sunday afternoons. Here is a quote from the book, “After we had our picnic, Mother read to us. She didn’t read like other people; she talked a book. I mean, if you were where you could hear her but couldn’t see her, you’d be sure she was telling the story from memory instead of reading. And another thing different about Mother’s reading was that she didn’t care if you watched the book over her shoulder. I used to watch her eyes by the hour as she read. They would swoop across the page like a barn swallow across a hayfield, then she would look up and recite for a full minute before she looked back at the book again. When Mother read, we children had to be quiet and pay attention. We could do most anything we pleased with our hands, like making whistles, stringing dried berries for beads, or playing with dolls, but if one of us whispered, Father snapped his fingers. If he ever got to the third snap, Mother would close the book and we would do something else for a while.” In this passage and other passages from this book, you can tell Ralph loved listening to his mother read and learned to love books from these experiences.
  4. Reading to your children also fosters bonding and improves relationships. The bonds that are created as you read together will inspire your children to love reading and learning because they love you. Reading together is quality time spent together and an expression of love. Oliver DeMille talks about this concept in his book, “Thomas Jefferson Education.” He says, “In teaching a young child to read, there is no substitute for ‘lap reading.’ It is here that the mentorial trust, affection and desire to please are established and nurtured. It is here that through parent bonding and memorable moments a child gains a rapport with books as his friends and teachers, grows comfortable and familiar with the symbols of language on the page, gains a curiosity and drive to encounter the secrets of pages not yet turned, and ultimately the confidence that reading must be within his reach, for it has always been part of his life, and his parents have not only mastered it but communicate in word and deed that he will too, in due time. A child that is read to consistently and often will not need to be pushed to learn to read.”

In my opinion, there are not many better or more worthy activities you can choose to do with your family. It will not only teach and edify your children and their education, but you will learn as well. I cannot tell you how many times in reading to my children that I have encountered words or concepts that really made me think. As I simply read to my children, my vocabulary and reading abilities are challenged and improved. To me, that’s super cool. Reading together as a family can give you topics of conversation for the dinner table. Lastly, reading to your children creates shared experiences that can help you better relate to one another as a family.

What success have you seen from reading to your children? Did your parents read to you as a child? What did this article inspire you to do differently?