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For parents and teachers: Read aloud to your children to boost their vocabulary

| January 14, 2021 | 0 Comments

BY MARGARET KRISTIN MERGA

Words are powerful, and a rich vocabulary can provide young people with significant advantages. Successful vocabulary development is associated with better vocational, academic and health outcomes.1

When parents read books aloud to their children from an early age, this offers notable advantages for children’s vocabulary development.2 This gives them a broader range of possible word choices. Research also suggests children who don’t have the opportunity for shared reading are comparatively disadvantaged.3 If we want our children to be able to draw on a rich vocabulary to express themselves clearly, we need to read to them. Developing a child’s vocabulary is a valuable investment in their future.

Benefits of reading aloud

In the very early years, spoken vocabularies have been associated with higher achievement in reading and maths, and better ability to regulate behaviour.4 Vocabulary is also linked to success5 in reading comprehension and related word recognition skills.

Much of a child’s vocabulary is acquired through daily conversations.6 Shared reading aloud can provide a valuable additional source of new words children can use to power their expression. Research suggests the text of picture books offers access to more diverse vocabulary7 than child-directed conversations.

At some point, most of us have experienced the frustration of searching for an elusive word that is essential to clearly communicate an idea or a need. When children speak or write, they draw on their vocabulary to make word selections that will optimise the clarity and accuracy of their expression.

Beyond vocabulary, reading aloud offers numerous additional benefits for children. Reading aloud may support students to develop sustained attention, strong listening skills,8 and enhanced cognitive development.9

Recent research also suggests children who are read to from an early age may be less likely to experience hyperactivity.10 Children who are at risk of reading difficulties may particularly benefit from being read to. Children who are learning English as an additional language11 may experience better reading comprehension when they are read to in English.

Reading aloud with your child is also valuable parent-child time.12 It can strengthen the parent-child relationship and foster reading engagement, which is essential if we want our children to enjoy the benefits of being a life-long reader.

What if I don’t have a book?

We may not always have a book at hand. In these cases, you can draw on your creativity and tell a story, which can also benefit vocabulary.

While there is limited research in this area, one study13 compared telling a child a story or reading them a story with a child reading silently to themselves. The study found all three groups of children learned new words. But telling a story and reading a story to a child offered superior gains in vocabulary.

Beating the barriers

Research suggests14 that children may be aware of the benefits of listening to books read aloud. This awareness can be a source of regret15 for the child when reading aloud at home ends, but they still enjoy shared reading. Children may continue to enjoy and benefit from being read to beyond the early years.16 You should keep reading with your children as long as they let you.

By far, the biggest barrier raised by parents to reading aloud to their children was the formidable barrier of time.17 If reading aloud becomes a routine part of family life, like dinner and bedtime, this barrier may be overcome as the practice becomes an everyday event.

Due to diverse issues faced in homes and families, not all parents will be able to read their child a book, or tell them a story. This is why it’s still so important for schools to provide opportunities for students to regularly listen to engaging and culturally diverse18 books.

But reading aloud is not a typical daily classroom practice.19 We should increase the number of opportunities children have to hear stories both at home and in schools so children can experience the many benefits of a rich and varied vocabulary.

Margaret Kristin Merga is a senior lecturer in education at Edith Cowan University in Joondalup, Australia. This article first appeared on 12 February 2019, on www.theconversation.com. We thank www.theconversation.com for using a creative commons licence that allows us to feature this article here. To read a list of references applicable to this article, please go to: www.ieducation.co.za or www.isasa.org

Category: Summer 2020

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