The Benefits of Reading Aloud

Read Aloud Graphic

There’s a certain power to reading aloud. When children read aloud, they expand their vocabulary and build creativity.

“It is so magical to imagine the characters in a read aloud and picture how everything is created in your mind,” Maddie Bassman, a children’s librarian at the East Side Library, said.

Maddie Bassman
Maddie Bassman

Most literacy experts agree: Reading to your child – and having them read to you – is one of the best things you can do to help them learn.

“Preschool children who are read to regularly at home have increased activation in areas of the brain associated with semantic processing and visual imagery,” Dr. Amy Shriver, a pediatrician in Des Moines and the Medical Director of Reach Out and Read Iowa, said.

“This suggests that this early reading prepares them to better understand, process, and appreciate chapter books and higher-level reading.”

Dr Amy Shriver
Dr. Amy Shriver

These benefits expand to adults, as well, starting with their own relationship to their child. The social experience of reading together can’t be understated. Reading with your children both decreases stress levels and improves parent/child relationships.

“When caregivers engage in regular shared reading with their children,” Dr. Shriver said, “they are creating a foundation for their child's social, emotional, and cognitive development that will give their child the best chance for success in school and in life.”

You don’t have to have young children in the home to realize these benefits. Study after study confirms that reading aloud improves memory and vocabulary, no matter your age. One experiment showed adults aged 67-88 were almost three times as likely to recall words they read aloud than ones they read silently. Another study found that even silently mouthing words makes them more memorable.

What’s more, in the time of social isolation, feeling connected with others is a way to cope with stress. Reading aloud with people in your home, or even with others over Zoom, is a way to create positive experiences that build those connections.

“When adults share books together, they’re sharing more than just a compelling narrative,” Dr. Shriver said. “They are also letting each other know that they are valued. Sharing books together, whether it's parents and children or two adults, is a gesture of love.

“It's the gift that keeps on giving.”

In The Enchanted Hour, writer and journalist Meghan Cox Gurdon explored the power of reading aloud. In one part of the book, she talks about Linda Kahn’s experience. Kahn’s 88-year old father was in the hospital with heart issues and his health was faltering. He was in a rut, unable to engage in anything beyond depressing small talk. Then something changed.

That day in the hospital, Khan’s eye fell on a stack of books that people had brought as gifts. Her father had always been a reader, but lately he didn’t have the energy or ability to focus. She picked up Young Titan, Michael Shelden’s biography of Winston Churchill, and started to read it out loud.

“Right away, it changed the mood and atmosphere,” she says. That afternoon, Khan read to her father for an hour. It was a relief and a pleasure for both of them, and boosted their senses of well-being. Reading gave Khan a way to connect with her father and help him in a situation that was otherwise out of her hands. Listening allowed her father to travel on the sound of his daughter’s voice, back into the realm of intellectual engagement, where he felt like himself again.

So as you get ready for the long holiday weekend, try to find some time to read a story aloud. A picture book, a chapter book, or even YA novels or a nonfiction book. It’s a great way to spend time with family, whether you’re just with your household or chatting with Grandma and Grandpa over Facetime.

Our librarians are here to help. Bassman says recommending books is one of their favorite jobs as librarians. “We can help you find the perfect book to spark everyone’s imagination!” she says. Head on over to our Book Chat page to get some great ideas for the whole family.

Read Aloud Resources and Book Lists

Published on November 23, 2020
Last Modified October 01, 2023