1.2 Why Reading Aloud with Children Benefits Adults, Too

This course focuses on how reading aloud with children benefits the children with whom we read. What receives much less attention is that adults who read aloud can also experience benefits. These benefits are not only emotional well-being; they are also cognitive. In other words, our thinking skills also improve.

The emotional benefits we receive from reading aloud with children can come from the bonds we grow and enjoy with the children. Our reading aloud sessions provide a kind of “us time,” special time just for us and the children. Also, the stories we read become something we share, just like we might share a trip we take together to a park. The characters in the story become mutual friends (or enemies) we made without ever having to leave the comfort (and safety) of our home.

Also, reading aloud can be a quiet time, a time away from the concerns of the day, a retreat into the simpler worlds of children’s books. For example, we may be worried about meeting a deadline at work or even about whether our job will continue to exist, but during our read aloud session, all those concerns are put on pause. Thus, reading aloud should not be seen as a burden to bear. Instead, it can be an escape from burdens, an escape that clears our minds, leaving us better prepared to take on challenges.

This putting aside of other matters while reading aloud with children is especially true, because more than when we read silently, when we read aloud, particularly reading aloud with an audience of one or more children, we need to focus. While reading silently, all we need to attend to is understanding the words and the overall content, but when reading aloud, we have to do all that plus considering how to pronounce the words. Then, we add the audience layer, and we need to consider whether our reading is holding the children’s attention and whether they are understanding. As a result, we have no time to be distracted by outside matters. Our minds have to multi-task.

Another reason why reading aloud with children can benefit adults is that it gives us a chance to play. Adults are often too serious. Especially when we are with children, we may feel that we have to be the serious one. Instead, we should take the opportunity to pretend for 30 minutes or so that we are actors up on a stage performing for an audience. Just like actors, we can use different voices, express various emotions, and have fun using body language to bring the story to life. Remember that part of what we are doing when reading aloud is selling a product – reading.

Some research suggests that we may remember better when we read aloud rather than silently. That makes sense because when reading aloud, we not only see the words, we also hear them. If you have no children with whom to read, Meghan Cox Gurdon, author of The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, says that, some dogs may find it comforting to hear the sound of reading aloud. She knows someone who reads aloud at an animal shelter. Cox Gurdon also recommends reading aloud with nonhuman animals as an opportunity to hone our reading aloud skills.

Lastly, words can have more power when read aloud. Ilyana Kadushin is an award-winning narrator of audiobooks, and she teaches classes on audiobook narration at New York University. Her advice – https://www.voices.com/blog/becoming-an-audiobook-narrator – is to feel the words as we read them aloud. “That, to me, is very important – to understand that someone’s listening and that what you’re doing with the language is landing in their ear.”

Similarly, researchers in Positive Psychology (see the booklet on that topic elsewhere in this series on Reading Aloud with Children) is to write notes to express our gratitude to others, and, then, rather than just posting the notes to the people to whom we are grateful, we should go and read the notes to them in person, or at least via conferencing software. In this way, both the readers (us) and the listeners feel the power of spoken words, thereby making the gratitude more sincere.

 Summary: Yes, the main purpose of reading aloud with children is to benefit the children, but happily, we too benefit in a variety of ways.