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The Power of 20 Minutes: Exploring the Importance of Reading Aloud with Your Children

Reading Aloud: A Key to Childhood Development and Lasting Memories

If you’ve heard it from us once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: read 20 minutes a day with someone special. Why? Allow me to explain.

Your child’s greatest teacher is—surprise!—you, the parent or guardian. You already know that your little ones begin learning way before they even start school and that you make the biggest impact on shaping their worldview; but did you know that reading aloud with them for at least 20 minutes every day can boost your child’s emotional and social development, nurture empathy, and significantly bolster their listening capability and comprehension? It’s true! The greatest and most important influence for your kiddos is you, and you can foster a great start to their learning adventure by simply taking the time to sit down for a small amount of time and read with them. To further enrich the experience, you can also ask simple questions and point at pictures with your little one; it’s more fun for everyone!

Boosting Child Development Through Reading

Some good news is that a survey from Scholastic’s Kids & Families Reading Report found that overall, approximately 83% of kids ages 6-17 years old love or loved being read to. Although 91% of surveyed parents said that they read aloud to their kids every day at home until the age of 6, that percentage decreases dramatically as they get older. The reported number of parents reading 5 to 7 days a week drops to 1 in 3 kids (38%) for ages 6 to 8; it further decreases to 1 in 6 kids ages 9-11 (17%). Understandably, it’s natural to taper off reading aloud as children learn to read independently, but a good number of children ages 6-11 (around 40%) say they wished their parents would still read with them because of the bonding experience and fond memories reading together cultivates. The Pew Research Center measures additional factors to take into consideration, such as the amount of mothers versus the amount of fathers reading to their children (55% vs. 45%), households that make at least $50,000 annually versus households that make less (60% vs. 42%), and even those with at least some college education versus those without any (59% vs. 36%). There is quite a bit of information out there, so I strongly encourage you to do your own additional research if you’d like to learn more about this topic!

A different national read-aloud survey from Durham’s Partnership for Children found that nearly 40% of parents say that they can’t find time in the day to read to their children, and that only about 1 in 10 parents reported reading aloud daily for 15 minutes from birth. Technology also appears to have an impact on families spending read-aloud time together. 65% of parents say that their children watch TV at home while 54% use a tablet or other devices. 4 in 10 parents say that it’s easier to find video games than books for their children, and half of parents say that books are too expensive. Good thing you have access to the public library (wink, wink)! To be fair, there are additional surveys demonstrating that the number of parents reading aloud to their children in the early years has increased over the decades, but the overall continuity is still on the decline.

Enlisting Help for Reading Aloud

Can’t find the time to read aloud yourself? Consider this: is there someone who can do it for you, like a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or even a trusted family friend or babysitter? I was the kid whose parents couldn’t spend read-aloud time with me because of their busy schedules, so my grandparents did it with me instead. I can also admit that a certain amount of screen time helped my reading and comprehension, but I was still taught the value of sitting down with a good book and letting my own imagination do the work. It’s a little disheartening to see kids visiting the library who are more excited to use the computers than to find something they would like to read.

Screen Time vs. Personal Interaction

As someone who developed a more complex vocabulary as a small child by playing text-heavy video games, I can personally attest that screen time can be beneficial in its own way. However, my favorite Legend of Zelda game could never replace the invaluable memories of cuddling up with my Papa and listening to him read some of my favorite childhood folktales or sitting with my Gramma and making up fun stories of our own with shadow puppets. The lesson here is that personal interaction with our kiddos is crucial for their development. As busy as we are, a learning game or stranger on a screen could never compare to a loved one taking the time to sit with them and read. Taking the time to discover what they like to read about as well will help cultivate a lifelong love of reading. Your kids love Minecraft? Fantastic! Guess what we have here at the library? Minecraft graphic novels and building guides! Not a confident reader yourself and hesitate to read aloud? No worries, we’ve got you covered. We have a great selection of Wonderbooks in the Children’s department that do the work for you—all you have to do is be there with them. Even better, we have regular weekly StoryTimes to bring your kids to for all sorts of read-aloud fun!

Taking Action for Positive Change

We could discuss technology, work-life balance, “picky” readers, education gaps, the U.S. education system, and other important issues all day, but what’s the point in discussing if we don’t create the change we want to see in our own homes? The unfortunate fact of the matter is that many children are performing way below grade level in reading and comprehension. Interest in reading declines more and more as children grow into adolescents, partially—it seems—because there isn’t enough focus on reading in general and the ever-present distraction of technology and social media. The great news is that you have the power to change that. There is no one better to give your child a head-start in life than you. By nurturing a passion for reading, you are building a valuable foundation for your kiddos to become something great. Together, you and your little ones can make lifelong memories that you’ll always cherish while simultaneously strengthening their learning. All it takes is 20 minutes of your day.

Looking for a free way to build your child’s home library? Check out the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a book gifting program that mails free books to children in Natrona County from birth to age five. This international initiative aims to foster a love of reading and ensure that every child has books, regardless of their family’s income.

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