Children's Literacy Round-Up: January 26
Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 27th

How Can We Encourage Reading Aloud?

What do you all say to the idea of some sort of international campaign to encourage reading aloud to kids? A campaign for literacy, if you will, but one focused specifically on the benefits of parents and teachers reading aloud to kids. Personally, I think that something like this is essential. I truly believe that if more adults spent time reading aloud to kids, both individuals and society as a whole would reap tremendous long-term benefits. More kids would grow up to love books. Those kids would do better in school than they would have otherwise, and have enhanced opportunities. Some of those kids would make major contributions to society - solving medical mysteries, inventing alternative energy sources, whatever - contributions that they would not have been able to make if they didn't have those educational opportunities. Not to mention that all of those kids would have positive experiences and increased self-confidence, and would be less likely to end up in our correctional systems. I really believe that we could have all of these benefits if more adults spent time reading aloud to kids.

I've always felt this way, but my most recent thinking on this was triggered by a statement in a Denver Post article by Megan Wilson (identified by Terry Doherty in her most recent children's literacy roundup at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, the Reading Tub blog):

"a study conducted for Reach Out and Read shows that fewer than half of American parents read to their children daily."

I mentioned on my blog that I agree with Terry that somehow, we need to find a way to change this statistic. And I mentioned it on my Facebook page, too. In both places, that remark has inspired quite a bit of passionate and constructive discussion. Terry also has another post today at The Reading Tub collecting input on this topic. I dug into the Reach Out and Read (ROR) statistic a little bit, and found a more detailed reference to the study in a Cape Cod Times article by the founder of ROR, Barry Zuckerman. Dr. Zuckerman said: "a recent study commissioned by Reach Out and Read revealed that the majority of young children — 52 percent — are not being read to on a daily basis. That's 13 million children under 6 years old who are going to bed every night without a bedtime story — without the undivided, loving attention that comes with sharing a favorite book with their parents." (Zuckerman's entire article is a plea for parents to read aloud to their kids, and is well worth reading.)

I don't know what the answer is, but it's simply not acceptable that more than half of children under 6 in the US aren't being read to every day. I agree with Susan Stephenson/The Book Chook, who commented on my blog that by plugging away and making the Kidlitosphere a resource, we are making a difference, one book at a time. But I also agree with Sarah Mulhern/The Reading Zone, who talked with me on Facebook about convincing parents and teachers of the importance of read-aloud. And I agree with Becky Levine, who commented on Facebook about how great it would be to get the importance of read-aloud included as a message in the new President's education initiatives. Terry has also raised several of these ideas in the poll that she's running at The Reading Tub.

I'm struggling a bit with the whole thing, personally, because I feel VERY strongly about this message. But I'm philosophically a live and let live kind of person, someone who doesn't believe in telling other people what to do. I'm trying to balance these two interests in my own head. Still, I can't help believing that if more people just understood how important reading aloud is, they would want to do it. Wouldn't they? Some of them, anyway? 

Perhaps what we need is a public information campaign. This is an idea that I first heard expressed by author Jim Trelease, and I've continued to wonder about it ever since. What if there was a way to spread the following statement (or something like it) around the world?

"Reading aloud is one of THE most important things that parents and teachers can do to promote the happiness and future success of children. Please help spread the word!"

What if Oprah said this to her audience? What if President Obama slipped it into a speech somewhere? What if major sports figures mentioned it in interviews? Would these things make a difference? And if not, what would? What do you all think?

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.