Why Reading Aloud Has No Effect And What To Do About It?

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Is this what enlightenment looks like?
(photo by Laurent G)
You've been reading aloud for three months straight.

Every day.

Since the very beginning you religiously followed your preferred scheme.

Suppertime → Bath-time → Reading aloud → Bedtime.

Whenever you can, you also read aloud during afternoons and weekend mornings.

Yet, despite all your efforts and sacrifices, there is no visible effect.

Your lovely boy is still having trouble pronouncing those "R"s and he is even starting to stutter.

Your darling girl is still not in the top of her class and certainly not among the most fluent talkers of her generation.

There are no tangible effects of all that reading, despite all assurances that this is a game-changer.

Your kids were not reinvented as the best students of their generation, as you expected.

Reading aloud was not a silver bullet, after all. 

It is even more disheartening because you've done it all by the book.

You cut down on your kid's screen time. A struggle you would rather not remember.

Their library cards are stamped front and back.

Your home library is brimming with children's titles.

Yet your kids will rarely ask you on their own to read aloud to them during the day.

They prefer to stack the books one on top of the other and shout "Timbbbbbeeeeer!" as they collapse the books to the floor, laughing like crazy.

Where is that promised enlightment?


A Love So Beautiful

Enlightenment must come little by little - otherwise it would overwhelm. 
          Idries Shah 


One of the mistakes that we parents make is sometimes we expect the impossible.

photo by `gilad
As strange as it may seem, reading aloud is not an activity that we should embark on because of its results.

The name of the game is not winning.

This is no game at all.

There is no need to measure the effects of reading aloud as it is not a mind-training activity.

Reading aloud is a mind-expanding activity. 

You are taking part in the creation of a "thinking machine", not a circus performer.

Once again you are giving birth to your child by reading aloud to him.

A thinking child is being born.

Give your kid time to mature.

Paradoxically, some kids who are passing through phases of dramatic vocabulary increases could even begin to stumble on their words as they become aware that there are many more ways of saying what they feel.

Take, for example, your little girl who feels hungry.

Instead of saying "I'm hungry" as usual, her mind is now aware that it can instruct the mouth to say "I'm famished" or "I'm starving" or "I could eat a horse"  or "I'm having the munchies" or even "My roaring tummy is a mystery to me!".

Which one to use? Hesitation ensues.

But it is a sign of greater vocabulary exuberance, not the opposite.

It may be tempting to try to make conclusions about whether reading aloud is making a difference to your kid now.


Beware of making the wrong conclusions.

For example, a parent notices:

The more we read aloud, the less social my kid has become.
Therefore reading aloud causes introvertion, he needs more sports and less reading aloud. 

This type of logic - reverse causation - is a fallacy that can easily occur.

But it is no more logical, than the following statement:

The more firemen fighting a fire, the bigger the fire is observed to be.
Therefore firemen cause fire.

Stop trying to assess the effects that reading aloud is having on your kid.

Keep your focus instead on:
  • choosing good books
  • connecting book content to your child's life experience and other concepts
  • having fun and sharing laughs during read-alouds 
  • talking and communicating with your child about the books that you read and plan to read

Reading aloud is not a tactic you should use to improve your kids' school performance. It may be an added benefit, yes, but school tests are not the aim of this exercise.  

Reading aloud is a way of showing our children how much fun it can be to spend time with the greatest minds of human civilization. 

It is also one of the most beautiful ways of bestowing love on another being. 

If you are concerned about tests, don't worry. Life creates the ultimate test - a test your well-read kid will pass with flying colors. 

A test of humanity. 

If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to sign up to receive free children's book reviews from Read Aloud Dad by email or RSS.

28 comments:

  1. I completely agree with you!  Reading aloud with our kids is rich in and of itself and that's why we do it, not for any supposed future "results."

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  2. Hello Jessica,

    You nailed it! That is exactly the message - but you put it in a sentence - while it took me a whole page!

    And I am not joking here. If you asked me to sum it up, I could never have done it so nicely. 

    "Reading aloud with our kids is rich in and of itself and that's why we do it, not for any supposed future 'results'."

    Perfect! 

    I felt how important it was to say that reading aloud is "rich in and of itself" and that it was the real reason why we should do it. 

    it was nagging me. The whole "results" and "performance" aspect of reading aloud. Of course, it is great that kids perform better in school. But that is, in fact, only the icing on the cake. 

    It needed to be said, yet you said it so perfectly - that I can only tip my hat to you!

    Thank you so much for contributing with your great comment!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Jessica Richard 

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  3. Isn't this the truth?!!! I love your message and you are dead right! My favorite part of reading is the snuggle time with my youngest (he's 6) My middle and I love unraveling the story together (she's 9). My oldest  (she's 11) and I actually love to talk about books that we both love (or hate) that we've both read. 

    Reading with kids: it's the gift that keeps on giving!

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  4. "It's the gift that keeps on giving!" 

    True words indeed, PragmaticMom! You are so lucky to have three listeners with whom you share three so different reading experiences. 

    That is something very special! I know it must be a challenge reading on three fronts, but in your case it gives three times as many fruits!

    Just thinking about it makes me smile!

    Thanks for sharing a snapshot of your family's reading moments!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @2f04fd44b02f5004c4fadc411b33b1aa 

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  5. Glad you liked my sentence so much!  :) I am not an English professor for nothing!  Also, I meant to comment originally with my blog nom de plume:  fannyharvilleunschool.blogspot.com
    Thanks for your excellent blog; I enjoy reading it!
    --Jessica (Fanny Harville)

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  6. I adore reading with my duo and now they are both equally enamored with reading on their own.  

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  7. Hi Amy,

    Your story is testament to the efficacy of reading aloud. It is really time well spent as parents pass the reading bug on to their children  and that is a fantastic outcome. 

    Time is a limited resource. We only have so much time to make deep positive influences on the lives of our children. So, of course, it is better to start as early as possible. 

    Thanks so much for your words!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Amy Liles 

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  8. Hi Fanny Harville (J.)!

    Thank you for your kind words. 

    By the way, I visited your blog and I adored your Reading Update: Dipping In or Reading Through?  (http://tinyurl.com/3ljaa5n). I will re-tweet it and cross-promote it on my FB page, it is very very interesting!

    It is so useful to be reminded about how acquiring reading skills is a very complex and non-linear process.  Not everything is predictable about how kids learn to read. 

    Thanks so much for coming back to leave your new comment and the link to your interesting blog!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @8ca6c6b6249aef2fc148c16bd7198661 

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  9. Great post! It never occurred to me to read to my kids in order to get to some end result. It is just something we do. Don't get me wrong, I know it is good for us all, and that there are grand benefits, but they aren't particularly tangible of course. My dad read to me every night after dinner (always a step or two up from my own reading level) until I was a teenager, and I asked him to stop. I love those memories, and know that the books he chose shaped my interests significantly.

    You might check out Five In A Row. It is a homeschool "curriculum" where your read a recommended story for 5 days in a row, and tie in social studies, art, science, etc. into the story. We always get a stack of "go along" books from the library for each main story too. We've tried recipes, listened to all sorts of music, tried our hand with various art mediums, learned lots of new vocabulary... all because of shelves of read alouds and looking at them more in depth than we had before. The stories we have read are really wonderful! As a side benefit, I think it is pretty cool that my 4-year old can point out Russia, Italy, China, Japan, and Appalachia on our world map because of the stories we have read. Of course, I am a SAHM and have time for all of this reading and exploration. It is great fun!

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  10. Hi JenRay,

    Thanks for your great contribution! It is so nice that you have memories of your dad reading to you - it must be such a warm feeling when you think back to your childhood!

    Five in a Row sounds fabulous. I love the idea of integrating a story that you read aloud with other subjects. Your 4-year old is a lucky child to have such an engaged mom. 

    JenRay you are such an inspiration - thanks so much for your message!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @3147619b78e6ac6114a8223e688ef0db 

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  11. Hi Martlayne,

    Fantastic addition to the list of benefits! Shared memories and references are indeed a superb benefit of reading aloud.

    I can't wait until the day when my twins grow up and we start reminiscing about all the great books that we enjoyed together. 

    It has made us so close. 

    I can understand how you must be elated as a parent when your kids bring up those references from childhood, it certainly must bring up great memories!

    By the way, let me tell you something strange. On the day that you left your comment, we were reading ... please take a chair and sit down .... Richard Scarry's Great Big Mystery Book! Incredible coincidence! 

    And a fab read aloud book it is. My kids are crazy about Sam Cat and Dudley Pig the detectives. For any one who may be interested - Amazon is offering a 50% discount on the book today (Sep 12, 2011) http://ow.ly/6s23G - just checked! Its a fab deal for a great book. 

    Also, I simply love the fact that books can teleport you different times and different places - as you mentioned. That on its own is priceless. 

    I haven't read The Good Master (http://ow.ly/6s2vS) and The Singing Tree (http://ow.ly/6s2A0) - but I can tell you they are on my "to buy" list now, after reading those great reviews on Amazon. BTW, have you also read Seredi's The White Stag (http://ow.ly/6s2GQ) and do you recommend it?

    Oh, and the vocabulary benefit - that is an added benefit! 

    Thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a valuable comment.

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @1a6f421fa31d469e960c7d3d42d91b3e 

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  12. As well as all the great things you pointed out about reading aloud to children,  here are a few more.

    Creating shared memories and references -  I enjoyed it as much as the children!  And now that everyone is in their 20's and 30's, they still refer to certain characters or situations -"Are you sitting on my hat?" " "No, I am sitting on my own hat." Richard Scarry's Great Big Mystery Book 

    An opportunity to travel without leaving home to learn about people's lives in other places and times through great stories like The Good Master and The singing Tree by Kate Seredy.

    Improving my own vocabulary :).

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  13. Thanks Beth,

    So nice of you to take the time to leave a comment!

    Much appreciated!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Beth S. 

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  14. Thank you so much Jen,

    Your words highly appreciated as always!

    Read Aloud Dad 

    Re: Jen Robinson 

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  15. Excellent points for all parents to keep in mind, I think, Read Aloud Dad. Thanks!

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  16. Thanks for these great words! 

    Loved your comment about kids 'lighting up' when they talk about reading with their moms and dads. Yes, reading aloud is a special connection between parents and kids. It is called 'reading aloud', but it is so much more than a 'mere' reading session. As you say rightly, it is also a great way to help teach kids to associate reading with great experiences. So important!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to leave this great comment!

    BTW, elementary librarians rock! 

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Abundance of Books n

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  17. As an elementary librarian I encourage parents to read aloud to their children.  Their child might not be the smartest or best reader, but I see them light up when they talk about reading with their parents.  Kids choose books because they want mom or dad to read it to them, or they want to read it to their parents.  Parents who read to their children (but don't make it a chore) have created an experience that their kids appreciate.  They also teach their kids to associate reading with good experiences, which balances out the stress of learning to read.

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  18. Thanks so much for your comment Sheree.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @3480f2f753ffcfd4ff2c75e91a9d00bc 

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  19. Awesome. No two Snowflakes are alike. 

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  20. This is a timely post. I have been struggling with reading to my children at bedtime, because I demand quiet and attention, and it just doesn't seem to matter to the children any more. I have 6 children. My oldest two are grown and nearly grown, avid, strong readers, and all but my 3 year old read independently. I don't read to the children with school performance in mind. It is about relationship, and shared experiences, etc. It's just that we don't always seem eye to eye about book choice. My children will plop down and daily listen to children's book CDs of books that I think are borderline twaddle,but if I try to read CS Lewis, or classic fairy tales, Aesop fables, etc., I almost have mutiny on my hands. 

    But the message is? Keep it up? Keep choosing good books and they will become gourmets? Or cave into the twaddle for their sense of satisfaction?

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  21. Hi Angie! 

    Thank you so much for this great message. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to read aloud to children when there are kids of such different ages (and interests) inside a household. 

    Sometimes, I too have trouble with my own 4-year old twins - so I can only imagine how your challenges are much greater with 6 children and many older kids at that!

    From my experience, reading aloud is just as you pointed out - about relationship and experience. 

    I am not sure about the situation in your household, but if you can offer even more 'relationship and experience' that may be one way of tackling the 'problem'.

    That means involving another grown-up (more relationship and experience) in the quality time. If your partner can be present for read-aloud time, at least until new listening habits are formed - this will be of great help. Especially if your partner can take turns at reading as well.

    Kids always like (even if they don't admit it) spending quality time with parents, so that is a magnet. 

    As you have half a dozen potential listeners, maybe you can create a home 'book club' that meets at a certain time of the day on certain days, so that every one knows beforehand. This book club would have a name and a goal (after several sessions you can jointly think about a goal for next year).

    Maybe rent a DVD of the movie when you finish reading a book (depending on the book).  Or dangle some other prize for the book club participants.

    Maybe change the venue for the book club meeting from time to time. 

    Make a list of 12- 15 books that can be read at book club - show them the book covers and tell them a brief synopsis of the stories and then let your kids choose which book will be read. 

    Keep the first couple of meetings simple and let democracy work.

    Make sure that the 'book club' time is always well supplied with cookies (for attending members only, of course). 

    Try reading an easier picture book as an introduction every time, and then move on to a chapter from the more ambitious book. Make it clear that initially the book club will read a single chapter per meeting, unless the club asks the readers for another chapter. 

    Kids indeed can be very effective at staging a 'mutiny' undermining the effort, so the only viable strategy is to make small steps. I don't believe that you can easily step up to reading a C.S. Lewis book - you can only do it gradually. 

    Maybe thinking out of the box will help you find a new format that will make your older kids happy and then the results will come. 

    Hopefully some of this may help!

    Read Aloud Dad

    @f59ee338580c2c5f808fbc6a02382322 

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  22. I've come over from the Homeschool Showcase.  Very nice blog!
    It's lovely to see you've received so many great responses to this post. :)

    We love read alouds here.  My eldest is 13 soon, and still sits with us to listen.  I think it's quite funny how he not only critiques the story and character development, but also how I am reading the character's part, now.  Yes .. he's a bit of a character!

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  23. Hi Catherine,

    Another great response - this time from you!

    I love to hear from families that love reading aloud. Congratulations on your practice of sharing great books even with your teenage son - a great example for all parents (including me) who wonder how will it work out one day when our kids reach teendom!

    Sooooo nice of you to leave this comment! :-)  Thanks so much.

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Catherine Falce 

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  24. Great post!  My world has been expanded so much because of books and I want that for my children, which is my main motivation for reading aloud.  It also contributes to relationship between a parent and child. 

    You are so right about not looking for results and cause and effect, but instead focusing on continuing to do something that you know is a good thing!

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  25. Thanks Sharla! 

    Wow, a homeschooling mom of 7! Congratulations!

    You are completely right, our worlds continue expanding as we read books - it is true for kids and for us grown-ups, as well.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Much appreciated!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Sharla K  

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  26. NancyfromSageParnassusOctober 16, 2011 at 9:24 PM

    Nice. Especially the love part. Children are persons, not machines. We read to feed their minds and spirit- not something that is easily measured.

    Admiration, Hope and Love,

    Nancy

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  27. Thanks Nancy,

    Great words there ... this is  more than a chore, more than an education. 

    We are "feeding their minds and spirit". We are pushing the boundaries of their self-conscience and their conscience of the world that surrounds them.

    I truly appreciate your words of wisdom today!

    Thanks so much!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @200ed8ff26d6f3ff16f496ced4b7d354 

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