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Reading Aloud: Why It's a Superpower and How to Support It

February 1, 2023

When it comes to kids’ reading, reading aloud encompasses two activities: children reading aloud, either by themselves or to an adult; and adults reading aloud to children.

Each of these modes of reading are meaningful in different ways, and this World Read Aloud Day we want to talk about both. First, we’re celebrating the power of children reading aloud, and the confidence and skills this superpower gives them.

Reading aloud is a superpower 💫💫💫

Reading aloud is the most effective way for young children to practice reading. It helps with comprehension by giving them a better chance of internalising the words (by which we mean really taking them on board), rather than just skimming over them. This makes it more likely that they’ll understand what they’re reading. Sounding out tricky words phonetically also helps with decoding language where they might otherwise get stuck. When a child reads aloud they are also more attentive to how they are reading, which aids fluency and emphasis; they pay better attention to punctuation and pick out different modes of speech. Encouraging them to try out voices for different characters can help make the whole experience more fun!

Shireen Babul Lalji, an educator and literacy specialist, is a firm believer in the power of reading aloud to help build a habit of reading for pleasure: “Reading aloud is an essential part of the learning-to-read process. It helps us to hear the rhyme and rhythm of the text – essentially, the emotion of words. It’s this emotion that makes us want to come back to reading time and time again.”

For some children, however, reading aloud can be unenjoyable, challenging, or just plain scary. All of these responses are totally natural, and the best way to help is by offering tools and support strategies that meet young readers where they are. Often, children feel that reading aloud slows them down (which is true – our reading pace decreases when reading aloud compared to when we read in our heads). This can be frustrating. Parents that we’ve spoken to tell us that once their child becomes a confident and independent reader, they quickly migrate into silent reading. This is an important step in their development and it’s counterintuitive to pull them back into reading aloud completely, but encouraging them to strike a balance can be beneficial. Teaching children about the value of reading aloud can help them choose the mode of reading that works best for them at a particular time. They might enjoy silent reading at bedtime to help them fall asleep, for example, but if they come across a phrase or passage that’s a bit trickier, just trying it out loud can often clear things up.

Creating a safe, non-judgmental environment for more nervous readers is key, and can help turn reading aloud into a positive experience. Encouraging children to take their time and normalising making mistakes (which is, after all, how we learn!) reduces anxieties around reading. You can also try enlisting the help of a favourite stuffed animal – they’ve been proven to help less confident readers by giving them a companion to read aloud to without the embarrassment of it being a parent, friend, or teacher.

Adults reading to children

When grown-ups read aloud to children, incredible things happen: it supports children’s developing reading and literacy skills, broadens their imaginations, and strengthens the bond between adult and child (more on this next week!). The science backs this up: in this illuminating interview on the neuroscience of reading (and much more – it’s one of Mosey’s must-listens), UCLA’S Maryanne Wolf describes the way in which a parent reading aloud activates a child’s language region of the brain far more than if they listen to the same story as an audio book or watch it as an animation.

It’s best to get started as early as possible, because even babies benefit from having stories read to them. Reading aloud teaches them about communication, introduces them to the world around them in new ways, and builds listening, vocabulary, and memory skills (yes, even for infants!). As they grow, being read to enables children to develop their own sense of what they enjoy and find interesting, giving them the foundation they need to begin finding and choosing books that they’ll love (and if you read last week’s blog post, you know how critical this is to reading for pleasure). Following along as a grown-up reads  also helps them form connections between the written word, its sound, and its meaning, supporting the skills they need to transition into independent reading

How can the Mosey app help?

When we created the Mosey app, we knew we wanted it to fit the various needs of children and adults, whatever their abilities and capacity. As this blog hopefully shows, there’s value to reading aloud together and independently, so the Mosey app supports you to do both. Children and adults can use the app together to enjoy a shared reading experience or – if they are using the app by themselves – Mosey’s support features offer children the help they might need with accessibility, book choice, pronunciation, and comprehension, without needing to rely on a grown-up.  

One of the features we’re most proud of is Mosey’s ability to “follow” the reader’s voice and highlight the text as they move through the story (it’s like the virtual equivalent of “underlining” the words with your finger). This highlighting helps children stay focused, ignore distractions, and keep track of where they are on the page. Children can also click on any tricky or unfamiliar words to hear the correct pronunciation. Our aim is to create a safe and encouraging environment where every child can practice reading at their own pace and in a way that meets their needs.  To try it out for yourself, sign up to access the Beta version of Mosey here.

Next week is Children’s Mental Health Week (6-12th Feb), and the theme this year is “Let’s Connect”. In next week’s blog we’ll be contributing to this important national conversation by illuminating the sustaining connections that can be built by reading with your child. We’ll see you then!

Dr Laura McKenzie has spent the past ten years working in academia and the subsidised Arts across organisations including Durham University, New Writing North, and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children's Books. A lot of that work focused on supporting children and young people's reading, with a particular focus on building engagement with non-mainstream groups. At Mosey, she's delivering impact-led projects around reading for pleasure and helping to develop partnerships with researchers, universities, and third sector organisations.

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