During these stressful times with closed schools, parents and caregivers can do something very simple to ensure their childrens’ continued educational development: read aloud to them one-on-one! Not only does reading aloud one-on-one help build a bond between the child and adult, it helps teach the child to empathize, instill a desire to read, and perhaps most importantly, build vocabulary. As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than it is to fix broken adults.” Reading aloud to kids one-on-one is a simple way to help accomplish that.
According to LENA.org, a child’s vocabulary at the age of 3 is a predictor of their reading level in the 3rd grade. That, in turn, is a predictor of if they will graduate high school. Put more simply, a child’s vocabulary at the age of 3 is a predictor of if they will graduate high school or not.
As Jim Trelease in the Read Aloud Handbook writes, “The best source for vocabulary and brain building is the ear.” How else will a child so young increase their vocabulary except from being read to, spoken to, or sung to? Young children are educational sponges, quickly absorbing and processing the sounds around them. Higher SAT scores are also linked to children who were read aloud to.
Reading aloud to a child should not wait. In fact, the younger, the better. According to the Urban Child Institute, a child’s brain at birth has nearly all of the neurons it will ever have. Between the ages of two and three, the brain has more synapses (up to two times more) as it will have in adulthood. All in all, from birth to age three is an extremely impressionable time for a child. If a child isn’t exposed to as many words as possible during this vulnerable time, they will spend an entire lifetime trying to make up for their word deficit in school and in life.
As the new Executive Director of Read Aloud Delaware, I have been amazed and inspired as I meet our volunteers who are building strong children day in and day out. When not impacted by a worldwide pandemic, our 600 volunteers are reading to kids every day in child care centers and preschools throughout Delaware. Last year alone, our volunteers read over 20,000 hours to children. Not only do our volunteers experience great joy from their service, they are moving the needle on childhood literacy. One assessment we did showed that prior to our volunteers reading to kids at a new site, only 25% of children knew the proper way to read a book was from left to right. six months later after our volunteers were in there reading, 75% of children knew. Proper book handling, letter recognition, and phonemic awareness are just some of the crucial skills children gain by being read to on their path to becoming literate.
In closing, to paraphrase famed children’s author Mem Fox: we inoculate our children with vaccines to protect them against many types of diseases. Reading aloud to children helps inoculate our youth against illiteracy.
James Spadola is the new Executive Director of Read Aloud Delaware, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to fighting illiteracy throughout Delaware since 1984.