The Gift

(Ignore the Eye Rolls Please)

The holiday season is over; the gifts have all been played, worn, put away, or returned. Still, there is one more gift that parents can give their children in this new year. It is free and rather simple, yet it is perhaps one of the best gifts their child will ever receive. Its benefits last a lifetime, and if they are lucky – even beyond.

It is the gift of reading aloud. 

One of my fondest memories was as a graduate student in Dr. D’Angelo’s class.  He was my Children’s Literature professor and would begin each class reading out loud to us, using lively, animated voices.  His class was a blast, a breath of fresh air, and I never wanted it to end.  He unleashed the inner child in each of us. 

At that time, however, I had no idea that the simple act of reading aloud would later become such a significant part of my life’s work.  Now, I am somewhat ashamed to think that some of us actually thought this practice was silly.  (He ignored our eye rolls and taught us lovingly nonetheless.)  I honestly thought it was a colossal waste of instructional time, when in fact, nothing could have been farther from the truth. It was a gift, the very best of gifts.

As Oliver Prescott, states so eloquently in his book, A Father Reads to His Children, “Few children learn to love books by themselves.  Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word; someone has to show them the way.”  Dr. D’Angelo showed me, and countless others, the way.

While I always loved school, reading was not my passion back then; it was a means to an end. Yet Dr. D’Angelo’s love of literature and reading was infectious.  His love of, and for, reading quickly became mine and then you could not stop me.  My desire to read books was insatiable, and I was quite determined to find a captive audience so I often set my sights on my poor grandmother! 

Many years later, I followed my professor’s example, and read to ALL of my students, whether they were elementary school children, college students, teachers, or parents. And to this day, I seek interested, and even uninterested, listeners of both my read-aloud sessions, and its message.

Many have asked me, “Why?” Why am I so passionate about such a simple practice?  Sure, it is fun; it is enjoyable, but really what’s all the fuss about?  My answer is quite straightforward, and it is one based on decades of research – reading out loud to students, of all ages, every day, is critical to both their literacy success and social-emotional well-being.

It has been proven unequivocally, that “The single most important activity for building knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” Almost 40 years of research, and this fact remains unchanged. The Commission on Reading (1983), the National Reading Panel (2000), the American Academy of Pediatrics (2014), and the International Literacy Association (2018) all passionately echo this same truth. 

Shelley Jackson, a middle school principal and reading teacher from Maine, discovered that reading out loud was even more beneficial for older students than for younger ones.  She found that it strengthened their imaginations, bolstered their vocabulary, and exposed them “to more sophisticated texts than they might otherwise choose.”

It is also known to build strong emotional bonds between the reader and listener.  I will never forget when one of my struggling readers shared that my read aloud sessions gave her a “homey feeling, just like when mom or dad read a bedtime story.” It offers students safety and security in our ever changing and sometimes ‘volatile’ world.  Hence, I emphatically echo the words of Shelley Jackson, “If reading out loud accomplishes all of this – then by all means, let’s get going.”

I am more determined than ever before to read out loud to my students each day, and I implore all parents to join me in doing the same. I am sure some of our older kids may share similar sentiments as my younger self, but let’s choose to ignore the eye rolls and proceed lovingly, nonetheless. Little do they know – the worth of this gift.  We can only hope that one day, they might just pass it on.