You read to your children when they were young, but now they can do so independently. Are there benefits to keeping up the practice? By third grade, many parents stop reading aloud, rightly believing their children able to go it alone.While this is certainly true, it is significant to realize that for many, interest in reading takes a huge dip at this age. Books have become more challenging, school work more complicated, and reading more burden than pleasure.Here are some reasons it’s worth continuing to read aloud:
1. Reading aloud brings pleasure.
I’ll admit it. At thirty-five, I still love hearing books read aloud. I listen regularly to books on CD as I run errands. I love it when my husband says, “Listen to this!” and shares something he’s currently reading. As a teenager, I remember asking my sister to read to me while I was sick. Even though I felt too old for it, listening was an escape from my discomfort.
2. Reading aloud builds community.
When you share a story with others, you participate together in the world the author creates. You experience the story along with your children, allowing for a “touchstone” experience: one all of you can refer back to, share in common, and understand.
3. Reading aloud creates memories.
My father read half of the Little House on the Prairie books to me (I made him stop when I realized Laura’s dog, Jack, was going to die). My mother read a chapter of Nancy Drew to me everyday after school. These rich memories move beyond the content shared. The security, the undivided attention, and the continuity my parents offered me in these reading sessions were beyond compare.
I often tell my sons nothing is better than two boys, a book, and a blanket. We snuggle, read, and enjoy being together. I hope by doing this I’m building the same sorts of memories my parents gave me.
4. Reading aloud exposes the listener to language usage, new vocabulary, and new ideas.
Children who experience literature build richer vocabularies and hear the varied rhythms of language. The more exposure, the more natural and broad this language development is. This introduction to new topics, places, people, and ideas is limitless. So much I’ve learned of the world around me I first discovered in a book.
5. Reading aloud challenges the listener beyond their current reading level.
Most experts agree that, when hearing them read aloud, children can readily grasp books two reading levels beyond their own. Don’t be afraid to give a challenging book a try. I have picked up many mid-grade novels to read to my older son and have found his brother, two years younger, just as involved. A younger child might not comprehend everything, and that’s okay. Read with the big picture in mind.
6. Reading aloud broadens options.
My third-grader is a voracious reader, but he’ll gravitate to the same books again and again. On occasion, he’ll bring home books from the library I suggest, but often won’t pick them up on his own. If we read together, though, most of the time he’s hooked. Sharing with an adult can make a new book more attractive.
7. Reading aloud opens discussion.
As our children grow older and more independent, they naturally pull away. By reading aloud, you can share together the choices characters make, good and bad. Discussion isn’t forced when it grows out of stories.
Two-time Newbery winner, Katherine Paterson, has said, “Books are a dress rehearsal for life.” There is safety in witnessing events through the distance literature creates. Equip your child for his own future. Read tough stories together, intentionally laying groundwork for his intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth.
How do I read aloud to my older children?
I think older children need to be told by an adult there is nothing wrong with continuing the read aloud experience. If you enthusiastically approach your child, though it might take several attempts, you will have a positive response.
Here are some ideas:
- Pick up a novel your child loves and ask if she’d like to read it with you.
- Find a new book by your child’s favorite author and share it together.
- If your child’s class is reading a novel, get a copy so that you might share the same book at home. As a teacher, I found this especially beneficial for those struggling with comprehension.
- Pick a novel for your next family road trip. Read it in the car, in the hotel room before bed, or while you wait for a meal in restaurants.
Writers write, ultimately, to create meaning. What better way is there to connect with a story than alongside your growing child?
This post originally ran September 2009 as a guest post for steadymom.com