“The mowing machine’s whirring sounded cheerfully from the old buffalo wallow south of the claim shanty, where bluestem grass stood thick and tall and Pa was cutting it for hay.”
Little did my seven-year-old mind know, apart from the fact that I hadn’t understand a single word in the first sentence of this book, I was about to be absorbed into a world of prairies, sewing, and blizzards. More importantly, this signified my enchanted descent into the world of oral interpretation of literature. In preparation for our winter season, my mother began reading aloud The Long Winter, a book in the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As Emilie Buchwald once commented, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” This certainly was true in my case. Surprisingly, those nights of quiet reading are some of my most cherished childhood memories. Even more surprising is the fact that this is an uncommon occurrence in most households.
Reading aloud is a lost art.
Why is reading aloud important? We may justify our personal reading indulgences, but how does it affect the development of a person and relationships with the other readers? Reading aloud significantly increases comprehension through developing concentration and listening skills. But that’s only the beginning; reading aloud increases enjoyment of the material, encourages discussion, and enables growth.
Cultures were primarily oral in terms of their communication until the printing press caused the literacy revolution in the fifteenth century. Before books, the only way to preserve history was speaking it to others. Engaging the material in this manner brings it to life. Certain genres of literature, like plays and poetry are meant to be shared with others through performance. While the focus is on language, performing literature enhances the experience.
Reading takes us deep into our imaginations. This is a wonderful experience. Yet, we can often miss important details or not see situations through another’s eyes. Reading aloud naturally prompts discussion. There is a force unifying individuals with the book and with each other. This common ground provides avenues to discuss values, decisions, and experiences. It is a foundation for establishing thoughts while searching for agreement and similarity.
Whether it’s a story exploring a fantastical world or a book analyzing car mechanics, reading aloud introduces an environment that encourages curiosity and ambition. As Richard Steele once said: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” As a culture which has grown more nutritionally and physically aware, we understand the desire to have healthy bodies. Pursuing a healthy and active mind is equally important and beneficial. More importantly, reading aloud sets a precedent that credits learning and potential. Readers are not intimidated by the impossible. Rather, they possess an inextinguishable hope and drive to accomplish more than their dreams. As William Golding affirmed: “He that loves reading has everything within his reach.”
In a world which is increasingly becoming more technological, displacement of the written word does not seem far off. Reading aloud accords value to the written word. Reading aloud exhibits your veneration for relationships and community. Reading aloud brings amusement that glorifies rest and relaxation. Many of us struggle with the ability to fit reading into our everyday lives. Reading aloud is great accountability. If you set aside time with your child or friends specifically to read, you are reserving time for personal growth. Whether it’s with your book club or your children before their bedtime, reading aloud is beneficial for all ages. Let’s engage an energetic perspective that hungers for learning and will stop for nothing until we learn how to reclaim the lost art of reading aloud.
“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” —Katherine Patterson
Facts about reading aloud and children’s literacy can be found here.