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How reading aloud can help you bond with your kids and make them better readers

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We've all heard about the benefits of learning to read quietly and independently. A big part of learning at school is all about reading, but it's not always easy to find time for more reading at home.

Families have busy schedules filled with after-school activities and homework. Plus — let's be honest — with all the tech at kids' fingertips and school days already filled with required reading, it can be hard convincing kids that reading isn't a chore.

But Keisha Siriboe says there is a way, and it doesn't have to be independent or quiet! Her solution: reading aloud as a family.

Siriboe is a Baltimore-based early childhood literacy consultant with a Ph.D. in early childhood education. She has researched education strategies and student leadership development all over the world and says reading aloud can help people with stress management, hope and resilience.

Reading aloud is the best bang for your buck, Siriboe says, adding that she hasn't seen anything yet that gives a higher return on investment.

The emotional benefits of reading aloud

Reading with your child is a practice that creates space for deeper independent learning and exploring. It doesn't matter if it's a traditional book, graphic novel, non-fiction or historical fiction, it all counts. What matters most is taking the time to dive deeper.

Use reading aloud to start conversations that can help your child deal with the now of wherever we are in the world. It could lead to something you may not have expected. For example, when it comes to anxiety and worry, a caregiver could use a picture book that specifically deals with that topic and turn that into an opportunity for a child to share what worries they are carrying.

Reading aloud is one of the few spaces that checks all the boxes in terms of social, emotional and mental health. For Siriboe, the simple act of sharing your love of reading with your child is bigger than just literacy. It's another expression of love and a tool for helping kids navigate the world.

Talk, read, play and sing

There's more to reading with your kids than just the words on the page. Before you dive into reading, try talking with them about the story or topic.
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Getty Images
There's more to reading with your kids than just the words on the page. Before you dive into reading, try talking with them about the story or topic.

Siriboe likes to break down the global possibilities of reading into four key components:

Talk. She says take a moment to talk about the subject matter of the book, comic or recipe with your kids. If the book you're going to read is about wellness or meditation, you may want to share some of your favorite breathing exercises or ask your kiddo what coping skills they may have learned at school.

The next component is to read. Start looking at the words, finding the characters, settings and storyline of the book. Explore how the characters in the story engage with each other and their environment.

Then play. Perhaps you and your child want to role-play some scenarios of what the character is experiencing in the real world or explore what it would be like to live inside the character's world.

The last thing is to sing. Come up with your own song or use some online resources to find some silly songs that can help you bring a story to life. Siriboe emphasizes that this whole experience should be filled with joy and laughter.

The goal is to go past the idea of phonetics alone and really think about bonding with your child. That may mean the child gets to lead instead of the adult. At the end of the day, both the caregiver and child should hopefully be having fun.

The benefits of reading aloud for neurodiverse learners

It's important to remember that every child learns differently. Siriboe says parents may need to think outside the pages of a book to connect and help a neurodiverse child thrive. Allowing kids who learn differently opportunities to experience success within literacy can help build confidence and spark that fire for reading and storytelling.

Every child needs to discover what they like and who they are in the world of a story. If you have a child who loves to paint, you can take them to the museum and have them write down the artists that mean the most to them. Siriboe says the next step is to go to a local library and find books about the art that inspires them and give them a chance to create their version of that art.

Helping kids who may not take to reading

Not everyone takes to reading right away, and many kids struggle. Siriboe says parents need to know that it is probably safe to assume that a kid who doesn't love reading has probably had a negative experience.

The first thing parents can do is help their kiddo shift their perspective. She says helping kids move from a fixed mindset about what they think their reading ability is into a growth mindset is a good starting place.

Help reassure your kid that they may not be the great reader they aspire to be yet, but they absolutely can do this. One way to do this is to incorporate aural storytelling into the fold. Invite your child to create a story that you, the adult, are willing to write down or help them use a computer or smartphone app that can do it for them while they speak. Siriboe says this helps kids to form a bridge from the inconceivable to the I can do this!

Take the step to start

It's not about how well you read or even what you read. What Siriboe wants families everywhere to know is the act of starting to read aloud and making it part of your routine for 15 minutes a day is what matters most.

Listen to the audio version of this story at the top of this page for more tips from Keisha Siriboe and get insights into what she has learned in her research.

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Andee Tagle, with engineering support from Patrick Murray.

We'd love to hear from you. If you have a good life hack, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org. Your tip could appear in an upcoming episode.

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Diana Opong
Andee Tagle
Andee Tagle (she/her) is an associate producer and now-and-then host for NPR's Life Kit podcast.