We humans have thousands of different languages. We can achieve so many different purposes with these languages. We can share information, tell jokes and stories, make predictions about the future, ask questions, make suggestions, praise each other, communicate surprise and sadness, seek help, teach others, build bonds, express affection, and give opinions, to name just a few of the wonderful things we can do with language.
Although other animals also use language, some historians think that sometime between 30,000 and 70,000 years ago, humans’ brains developed, and with and through that development, our language abilities increased. These increased language abilities enabled us to build our advanced civilizations. The power of language in our lives continues today, as some scientists who study the human mind believe that language is crucial to the growth of children’s thinking powers.
The essential role of language is one factor that makes reading aloud with children so important. One famous study looked at the amount of language that different children heard from the time they were seven months old until they turned three-years-old. The differences between children amounted to some children hearing millions of words more than other children. That’s right – millions more. This large difference in words heard was associated with other differences, such as differences in knowledge and in how well the children did in school, with the children who heard more words doing better at school.
One easy way to help children hear more words is to read aloud with them. Not only do children – and remember the children in this study were not reading yet – hear the words we read from the book, they also hear words as we dialog with them as part of the reading sessions. These book-initiated dialogs form the basis for a culture of communication in our homes and outside the home.
Furthermore, via these discussions, we can encourage children to reflect on their lives, to be more mindful of the choices they make as they go through their lives and, as a result, to, we hope, make better choices. Also, these discussions let us be part of the children’s thinking and deciding processes.
The stereotype is that boys and especially teenage boys, at least in some cultures, do not talk much. I was like that. We boys, I thought, are supposed to be strong and silent. To talk very much is to be like a girl. At the same time, in many countries, boys do not do as well as girls in reading and in other academic areas. Perhaps, when we do reading aloud with children, we need to pay special attention to involving boys in discussion. Perhaps, this will improve their reading skill and help them become more articulate.
It’s true that some people like to talk more than others. People are at different places along the introversion-extroversion continuum, with introverts usually preferring to speak less, and extroverts preferring to speak more. There is no one right way to be; introversion and extroversion both have advantages. And, another point – we can also communicate without words. By making time to read aloud with children, we silently communicate to the children that we value them, that they are important to us. This silent form of communication may be the best reason for wanting to read aloud with children.
Fortunately, modern technology provides new ways to use language to communicate with children. Thus, the culture of communication we create by talking with very young children during read aloud sessions can be sustained not only by talking face-to-face but also via electronic means, as the children grow older, even as they reach adulthood.
We start a culture of communication as we read aloud with infants and toddlers. We then continue to promote this culture as we continue reading aloud with children even when they can read on their own. Let us hope that this culture of communication offers people today in the 21st century some of the same advantages that communication brought to our ancestors tens of thousands of years ago.
Summary: Children’s mental development advances due to the language that infants and toddlers hear as we read aloud to them. These read aloud sessions provide a foundation for a culture of communication that will benefit children and the other people in the children’s lives throughout their lives.