April 10, 2019


by: Dorte Bladt


Categories: Blog

Why reading aloud to children is so important to their development

Studies on reading aloud to children

I know it is pathetic, but I can’t wait to have grandkids. I look forward to spoiling them rotten, doing all the things I didn’t want my parents to do!  Things like baking chocolate chip biscuits and eating ice-cream for afternoon tea.

I am also excited to share with them what I loved doing with my own kids. Like dancing like maniacs to ABBA! and most of all, reading lots and lots of books. That feeling of being tucked up in a corner of the couch or the bed with a kid on either side and getting lost in the simple adventures of little people. And reading the same book over and over and over – I am sure I could still recite many of them if I gave it a go. 

That reading aloud to children is good for them (and us) is a well-known fact. The number of kids books in the home is the number one predictor of later school success (1).  Shared reading has been shown to foster early literacy skills (2), improve listening skills (3), vocabulary (4), reading comprehension (5) and spelling (5).  Story time helps a child’s cognitive development (6) and creates a positive relationship with reading (7) which becomes more apparent the older the child gets.

A recent study even found that children who were regularly read to from baby age and on had improved behaviour and less hyperactivity at 4.5 year of age as they started school (8). Another important factor in reading rituals is the time spent bonding with the parent, enjoying some quiet time with focused interaction. Reading aloud to children has a positive impact on sleep routine, peer relationships, self-esteem and resilience (2).

Interestingly, recent research argues that a book is not just any book. A study released this week highlighted the differences in positive outcomes between reading aloud to children from a printed book and one from a screen (9). According to this study the e-book just doesn’t cut the mustard. One of the benefits from reading a book together is the child-centred conversation that the book stimulates. It offers an opportunity to engage the child by making comments about what is happening in the story and asking questions that revolves around the child and his/her life experience:

What colour is the big ball in the picture? What colour is your ball? Do you remember when we walked to the duck pond to feed the ducks?  What sound does a duck make?  Open ended questions about how the child feels about the story or what s/he thinks is going to happen next stimulates the child’s imagination as well as comprehension. It is primarily this dialogue that makes reading so beneficial for brain development.  

This study found that this type of conversation was significantly less when reading a book on a screen.  Parents were more likely to ‘just get the job done’ without asking and commenting on the story. The verbal exchanges that did take place were more likely to be directions about the device, such as not to pushing the buttons or changing the volume.

The researchers were careful to point out the small study size and basic e-book app used. They acknowledged the need for further study and stressed that if parents were aware to increase their communication with their children while reading the e-book, it would be as beneficial as the old print book.  Wusses! They know it will never be the same as the old dog-eared, crayon decorated and torn up print versions of the past!


  1. Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations M.D.R.Evans https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0276562410000090
  2. Reading aloud to children: the evidence E Duursma https://adc.bmj.com/content/93/7/554.short
  3. Parental Involvement in the Development of Children’s Reading Skill: A Five‐Year Longitudinal Study Monique Sénéchal
  4. Early vocabulary development: The importance of joint attention and parent-child book reading Brad M Farrant https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0142723711422626
  5. To Read or Not to Read: A Meta-Analysis of Print Exposure From Infancy to Early Adulthood Suzanne Mol https://www.researchgate.net/publication/49740676_To_Read_or_Not_to_Read_A_Meta-Analysis_of_Print_Exposure_From_Infancy_to_Early_Adulthood
  6. Reading to young children: A head-start in life? Guyonne Kalb https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272775714000156
  7. The Association Between Parental Involvement in Reading and Schooling and Children’s Reading Engagement in Latino Families Gustavo Loera https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19388071003731554
  8. Reading Aloud, Play, and Social-Emotional Development Alan L. Mendelsohn, MD https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/141/5/e20173393
  9. Differences in Parent-Toddler Interactions With Electronic Versus Print Books Tiffany  Munzer https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/143/4/e20182012