The research, conducted by University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) scientists, shows that whether a child has been read aloud to on a regular basis is the single biggest predictor of a child's success in learning to read.
"Reading aloud to children helps them develop oral language. It teaches them how to listen and how narrative is structured. They also learn vocabulary and how print works and that it is read from left to right," says UAB Associate Professor of education Kathleen Martin, Ph.D.
Martin and UAB Assistant Professor Kay Emfinger, Ph.D., are authors of the new book "Sharing Books Together: Promoting Emergent Literacy Through Reading Aloud and Home-School Partnerships."
Children who are not read aloud to often enter kindergarten and first grade lacking these skills, which Martin says are important for learning how to read, Martin said.
"A lot of parents know that reading aloud to their children is important," says Martin, "but often they don't realize that it continues to be of value as the child ages. Also, many parents probably have less time to read aloud to their children these days.
"It is never too early to begin reading aloud to children," Martin said. Even infants can enjoy looking at illustrations in a book as their parents read to them. When children are past kindergarten, they still need to be read aloud to in order to learn about more complicated subjects and how to listen to and comprehend more sophisticated text," Martin said.
It's important for parents to be animated when they are reading to children, says Martin.
Using different voices for the various characters in a story makes the experience more fun for young children.
However, parents should never force children to listen to a text if the child is bored by the material. Reading should always be presented as a fun activity, Martin said.