Psst. Hey you.
What would you say if I told you there was a proven way to increase your child’s standardized test scores, at minimal effort and absolutely ZERO COST to you?
You’d be clamoring to get on board that train, amirite?
This is the real deal, people. And the answer is simple:
As an English major and an early literacy enthusiast, I tout the benefits of reading to kids to anybody who will listen. But even I was shocked when I discovered the Read Aloud Revival podcast (highly recommended!) and heard the concrete, empirical benefits of reading aloud for myself.
According to a study conducted by Dr. Joseph Price, “an extra day per week of parent–child reading during the first ten years of life raises a child’s performance on standardized reading tests by about half of a standard deviation.”
Seems modest at first glance, I know, but here’s the kicker: in this context, half of a standard deviation equals approximately ten to fifteen (!) percentage points. And an extra day per week is just that: one extra day of whatever you’re already doing.
Are you reading to your kids for an hour a day, three times a week? Awesome. Add in one more hour and you will see results in their test scores. Are you reading to your kids just fifteen minutes a day, twice a week (if you’re lucky)? Good news. Add in one more fifteen-minute session, and you will still see results.
In other words?
You can do this.
I know how busy our home lives are, Mama. I know that some of you are working multiple jobs to support your kids, some of you are doing this very hard work alone, and some of you are wondering where you’ll find the time and energy to read with your kids for even fifteen minutes.
There is so much grace here.
But there are also a few helpful tricks I’ve picked up along the way that I hope will help you incorporate reading into your daily routines:
Read at Mealtimes
The main strategy here is based on the fact that when kids are eating, their mouths are full. And when their mouths are full, they’re far less likely to interrupt during reading time. In our house, we read devotions and Bible history together during breakfast, and classic chapter books during lunch (Charlotte’s Web, Little House on the Prairie, Stuart Little, etc.)
If you’re a stay-at-home mom, this will be relatively easy for you to implement – just be sure to eat your own meal a little early so you can read aloud the full time your littles are chewing. If you’re a working mom, this discipline will be a little harder to achieve, but just remember: every little bit counts. Even just a short poem or prayer read aloud at breakfast or dinner exposes your kids to new vocabulary words, cadence, and tone.
Choose Books Above Your Kids’ Reading Levels
When children are learning to read, they need selections at or below their reading levels. But when they’re being read aloud to, the sky’s the limit. Take advantage of this opportunity at bedtime by making a deal with your child: they get to pick one book for you to read aloud, and you get to pick one as well. Their choice can be anything on the shelf, but your choice should be at least three grade levels above their current reading skills. You will be amazed at how much they can comprehend and retain! Find a chapter book that you both enjoy, and you may just find that you look forward to your nightly reading times as much as your littles do.
Keep Hands Busy During Read-Alouds
You remember I mentioned the Read Aloud Revival podcast? The sister site is equally awesome and chock full of tips and resources for “building your family culture around books.” But the idea to let your kids engage in quiet activities while being read to was one I was wary of – until I tried it.
I thought for sure that allowing my five-year-old to color, draw, or string beads while I read to her would distract her from the story. But to my astonishment, her focus and retention were better when she was busy. Something about keeping her hands busy frees up her mind to more fully engage and gives her the extra help she needs to sit still.
Our favorite read-aloud activities include these snap-on jewelry beads, this classic potholder loom, this make-your-own card kit, and this awesome multi-craft loom from Melissa & Doug. (On our list to try are finger knitting, circular knitting, and this adorable neon puzzle cube.) For younger readers, you can’t go wrong with Legos, blocks, Play-Doh, modeling clay, coloring pages, and sticker books.
Reading to your kids doesn’t have to be overwhelming – just start by spending 10 – 15 minutes together with a book each day, and build on that foundation. And when read-aloud time feels like just another item on your to-do list, remember the words of Dr. Seuss: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
It’s so worth it!
Have you built your family culture around books? Share any tips and tricks you’ve picked up along the way!