First of all, why 20 minutes? The biggest reason comes down to this – 20 minutes a day is a manageable amount of time, especially since the 20 minutes is a cumulative amount of time. It does not have to be in one, single block of time to be effective and attain all the benefits of reading aloud to children. I realize that, as a daily event, reading for longer periods of time is probably unrealistic for many parents with busy, hectic lives filled with obligations and commitments.
To fully understand the benefits of reading aloud to children and what reading 20 minutes a day can do for our children, we have to move beyond the immediate and look at the big picture. The big picture is the cumulative amount of reading time during all the years leading up to kindergarten. Children typically enter kindergarten at the age of 5 so we need to look at the power of reading 20 minutes a day from the ages of birth to 5 years.
10 hours x 12 months = 120 hours per year
120 hours x 5 years = 600 hours over 5 years
A typical public school system is in session for 180 days each school year. Each day is made up of approximately 5 hours of total instruction time. A school day is certainly longer, but what is important is the total instruction time. Easily 40% of all instruction time during the school day is wasted with administrative matters, behavioral issues, and other non-instruction events. This leaves only 3 hours of total instruction time in a typical school day.
Now think back to when you were in school. How many times did you fall asleep in class? How often did you day dream or not pay attention in general? How many days were you at school when you didn't really feel well? If you were a typical student, the answer is probably "quite a lot!" So in all actuality, there might be 540 hours of total instruction time per school year, but the "true" learning time is significantly less.
However, the true "power" and benefits of reading aloud to children really come into play when we look at the total amount of learning time. Easily 100% of the 600 hours accrued from reading 20 minutes a day is "true" learning time enjoyed by a child who is interested, engaged, and in a loving environment conducive to learning.
Contrast that to the school setting. How often are our children really interested and engaged? It is hard to say what percent of the 540 total instruction hours in a typical school year is "true" learning time, but it is safe to say it is significantly less than 100%. There truly is "power" in reading, and a small investment of 20 minutes a day to obtain all the benefits of reading aloud to children can really have significant educational returns!