The significance of reading aloud to young children


By Emelia Prayogo, Director of Pedagogy, E-Bridge Pre-School

Mem Fox, an Australian writer, once said, “When I say to a parent, “read to a child”, I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.” 

Reading aloud to young children is not solely the responsibility of educators in the pre-school contexts. When parents fully understand the significance of their involvement in their children’s early literacy development, it becomes a strong precursor to their child’s early language development. Parents, as their child’s first educators, play a significant role in nurturing their children’s love for reading.

When adults read aloud together with their children, the experiences naturally expose their children to new vocabulary. Their young children may not seem to understand every new word. However, reading aloud the same book several times will help children to deepen their understanding of the words used in the context of the book and make sense of the word the next time it is encountered. Besides advancing children’s communication skills, reading also enhances children’s social skills, hand-eye coordination, as well as thinking skills. In summary, reading opens doors to the knowledge of the world around us.

Photo: EtonHouse International Pre-School, Hong Kong

Why should we read aloud with our children?

  • Facilitate bonding between parent and child

Having a child sit close to you during the read aloud not only presents the possibility of developing their literacy skills but also provides social and emotional benefits (Bus, 2002). The course of spending time together nurtures the feeling of close relationship.

  • Provide intimate reading experiences (dialogic reading)

Dialogic reading provides a nurturing climate for sharing literature.

This nurturing climate further elicits children’s interests in exploring literacy. It involves:

  • child points out to the words he or she recognizes or accompanies with hand gestures
  • child acts out characters or copies the action shown in the books
  • child sounds out familiar sound
  • child identifies words beginning with same sound (alliteration)
  • child names the objects or subjects
  • child sometimes ‘reads’ the book to the parent
  • child asks questions relevant to the storyline
  • child is able to tell the sequence of the story
  • child can relate the words she or he heard to real-life experiences (decontextualized language).

However, in order to be able to reach the above ideals, adults need to be open-minded. Without being open or unbiased to children’s imaginative ideas or suggestions, it will be a challenge for aforementioned possible scenarios to materialize. Children are sensitive to adults’ responses. They may react with some encouragement or discouragement, and it is thus important for adults to be fully aware of their roles. Some parents, in their questionnaires, shared their roles as to ensure children could say what she likes and dislikes. Further affirmation through encouraging words is applied whenever necessary.

  • Develop language and comprehension skills

Reading aloud together expands children’s vocabulary through clarifications and explanations. Parents also highlighted the importance of explaining and clarifying the essence of the story through discussion. In order for a text to be effective in the development of language and comprehension, it must also be conceptually challenging enough for children to be active participants in constructing meaning (Beck & Keown, 2001).

During or after reading aloud experiences, parents should purposefully put in effort to ask relevant questions related to the storyline or characters the child likes or dislikes. To better facilitate the child’s engagement in comprehension, it might be beneficial if parents read the books prior to reading aloud experiences. By having the understanding, parents can avoid surprises related to content or unfamiliar words, and think about questions or teach new content of skills as part of the reading aloud together.

EtonHouse Connects Issue 2 - the significance of reading aloud to young children
Photo: EtonHouse International School Thomson, Singapore


1. Careful selection of appropriate books

The key to effective reading aloud is the careful planning of selection of appropriate books. It is important to carefully choose a book to promote discussion as well as inclusion of rich language. It is recommended for parents to read up on the books first to ensure children’s better engagement in the process of reading aloud.

Chosen books should be appropriate and relevant to children’s interests and matched to their developmental, emotional and social levels (Fisher et al., 2004). When children are interested in what they are hearing, they reap a greater benefit. Parents need to understand both the books and the children. Parents should respect children’s requests or refusals of a particular book. It is perfectly fine to directly ask children their preferences.

2. Asking or having relevant questions or discussion

According to Beck and McKeown, research indicates the most effective features of talking about books focus on major story ideas, allowing the discussion to be reflective in nature.

Types of questions to ask during read-alouds

No matter which types of questions you ask, be on the lookout for opportunities to ask questions that maximize interactions with children and increase discussion on the book.

  • Factual questions ask for details about the text: “When does this story take place?” or “What kind of bird is this?”
  • Inferential questions encourage children to read between the lines of the text: “Why do hockey players wear skates?”
  • Opinion questions invite children to tell you what they think: “What do you think about that?” or “What did you think of the book?”
  • Text-to-self questions bridge the text to the child’s own experience: “How did you feel when that happened to you?”
  • Text-to-text questions bridge the text to another text the child has read: “Is this like another book we’ve read?”
  • Prediction questions ask children to tell you what might happen next: “What do you think the bird is going to do with the twig?” or “What do you think the author will teach about next?”
  • Authorship questions ask children to think like the author: “What would you have David do if you wrote the story?”
  • Vocabulary questions ask children what they know about a word: “What do you think the word glare means?”

(Based on information in V. Bennett-Armistead, N.K. Duke, & A.M. Moses, Literacy and the youngest learners. Best practices for educators of children from birth to 5 (New York: Scholastic, 2005).)

3. Reading and re-reading the same books

Although repetition of the same story might be mundane for parents, it is discovered that with multiple exposures to a story (three readings), children’s retelling became increasingly rich as they integrate what they know about the world, the language of the book and the message of the author (Elley, 1989). When children reread short selections, their confidence, fluency, and comprehension are significantly enhanced.

4. Role-playing or acting 

When we reach the end of the book, the discussion and learning need not end. Children enjoy responding to lively stories. While some are most comfortable responding orally, others may prefer to respond through art, writing, or dramatic play. For example, after you read The Bear Hunt, you may go on a walk and try to animate the various actions to further apply the comprehension in creative and meaningful ways.

We need to respect children’s uniqueness in responding to stories. No two readers will have the same response to a piece of literature. Children may demonstrate another form of engagement with the characters or storyline following the reading aloud through story re-enactments, plays, field trips, hands-on experiences, further discussions, movement, games, and songs.


To conclude, adults reading aloud has long been established as an important part of the development of children’s literacy skills. Reading aloud needs careful planning and strategies to ensure a higher success rate in developing children’s literacy development.


Bus, A.G. (2002). Joint caregiver-child storybook reading: A route to literacy development. In Handbook of early literacy research, eds. S.B. Neuman & D. Dickinson. 179-91. New York: Guilford Press

Beck, I.L & McKeown, M.G. (2001). Text talk: Capturing the benefits of read-aloud experiences for young children. The Reading Teacher, 55(1), 10-20.

Fisher, D. et al. (2004). Interactive read-alouds: Is there an common set of implementation practices? The Reading Teacher, 58(1), 8-16.

Elley, W. (1989). Vocabulary acquisition from listening to stories. Reading Research Quarterly, 24(2), 174-187.


About the author:

The above is extracted from a research paper was written by Emelia Prayogo, who examined parents’ strategies in reading aloud with their children and how this aids in developing literacy in the early years.

About the author: Emelia has worked with young children and educators in EtonHouse and E-Bridge Pre-School for close to 10 years. She held positions of Principal and Director of Pedagogy.

This page was last edited on September 29, 2016