My bachelor's degree is in elementary education. Within that program, I majored in English and American Language and Literature and minored in Children's Literature. One of the best classes I ever took was (and I don't remember the exact title) something about teaching reading to children. The professor was amazing (I don't remember her name, though). One of the best things we learned in that class was how to read aloud. Every elementary teacher needs to know how to read aloud.
Sometimes when I am at the youth desk at my library, I can hear parents reading aloud to their children. It's such a lovely thing when parents take the time to hunker down on the little stools and read to their children! However...so often they read aloud to their children like they would read to themselves. They read really fast and with very little emotion. The children are not nearly as invested in the story as they could be.
It is a real talent to tell a good story, and to read aloud from a book. You have to put on voices for the different characters. You have to make your facial expressions match what the characters are feeling. You have to read slowly and dramatically. It takes effort. It is a performance.
I absolutely love reading to children. It is so fun to see them react physically - they gasp when the character (well, me reading the character...) gasps. They jump when your voice goes suddenly louder. Their eyes widen when you put on a slow, creepy, quiet voice. I think they get so much more out of a story when their senses are engaged.
Another thing I learned in that same reading class was that repetition is key. I cringe when I hear parents telling their kids that they can't take a particular book home because "we just had that one." Clearly, the child loves that book. They want to hear it again. What's the harm in that? It won't cost you anything to check it out from the library again. Yes, it gets annoying to read the same book over and over. Annoying for the storyteller, anyway. Children like the familiar. The best part is that if you hold up the book and move your finger along with the words, they will start to recognize the words you are reading. When they hear the story over and over, they start to memorize the words. Giving them the opportunity to see what those words look like in print is wonderful! Read the stories as many times as they like! Once they know the story, start to show them the printed word. Word recognition is a powerful tool in teaching reading. (I should admit: I hate phonics. I believe in whole language learning. That's another blog post for another time.)
The third thing I want to share about reading aloud is the idea of tying in a lesson to what you are reading. If there are ten monkeys jumping on the bed in the story, think about what else you could count to ten with (ten marbles in a bowl, ten cookies in a batch, ten cracks in the sidewalk...) Can you draw a monkey jumping on the bed? Can you make a sock monkey? Can you learn about real monkeys and where they live/what they eat? Can you act like a monkey and make sounds like a monkey? Can you make a bed? Where can you jump that is safer than a bed? My favorite part of teaching was lesson planning. It is a lot of fun to come up with activities around a central theme. Children will retain more of what they read if there are activities to go with it.
So...reading aloud is crucially important to child development, but a lot more can be gotten out of it with a little effort.