Research 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, says Associate Professor Kathleen Martin, Ph.D.

Martin and 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.”

“Reading aloud to children helps them develop oral language,” says Martin. “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.”

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.

“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.

For older children, it’s important to look for quality literature that offers a satisfying story. Parents can select books that have a particular theme or that are written by the child’s favorite author, she said.

Also read poetry, which has rhyme, rhythm and repetition and can also be enjoyable for children,  and nonfiction also has benefits.

“Some children enjoy facts more than stories,” says Martin, “and reading nonfiction can build up a child’s background knowledge.”

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.