ISSL Blog: The Benefits of Reading Aloud

By Jay Rainey | Head of School, MICDS

“Read aloud to them and don’t stop.” This is the simple and sound advice offered to parents of younger children by Robin Campbell, Lower School Literacy Coordinator at MICDS. “Often what happens is that parents are so excited once their kids can read independently that they step back. Children need to hear different voices.”

The notion that being read to is “kid stuff”—a temporary accommodation to be outgrown—is deeply embedded in our culture. We tend to regard “real” reading as a quiet, even private endeavor, self-sufficiently undertaken. Socrates would not be pleased. He mistrusted the gradual rise of static written information in his lifetime, and its supplanting of dynamic oral communication. “Written words,” he said nearly two and a half millennia ago, “stand there as if they are alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent.”

I wonder what Socrates would think of Audible? The remarkable and ever-expanding popularity of recorded books is forcing a reconsideration of our definition of reading. Solemn silence and solitude no longer exercise a monopoly on the enjoyment of a memoir, a novel, a history, or a mystery. Over the period from 2007 to 2021, the number of new audiobooks published each year increased from approximately 3,000 to 74,000, marking an average annualized growth rate of over 25%. Audiobooks now account for about 9% of total book sales, up from less than 2% in 2010, and technologies like Amazon’s Whispersync facilitate the coordination of a person’s reading progress across media. Now we can “read” chapter one of an audiobook in our car, inviting the company of the narrator to our experience, knowing that chapter two will automatically be waiting on our ebook reader back home. Literacy is no longer such a lonely or isolated undertaking. 

My own capacity to read in an otherwise typically over-extended twenty-first century life has been significantly expanded by these developments. Over just the last several months, I have enjoyed an abundance of books—Ron Chernow’s Grant, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Jill Lepore’s These Truths, Saul Bellow’s Herzog, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, and George Eliot’s Felix Holt, the Radicalamong them—that, absent their audio and ebook formats, I simply would not have had time for. “Literacy is all-encompassing,” observes one of our MICDS fourth-grade teachers, Donna Waters. Yes, I am now letting myself be read to, but I am at peace with it. Recalling Robin Campbell’s insights above, I should note that my parents are still very excited that I can read independently, but children and adults alike need to hear different voices.