On the importance of reading aloud to kids (even after they’re reading independently)….

“We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves.” — Neil Gaiman on the Future of Reading and Libraries

Like most parents of pre-literate children, we read aloud daily to our 6 and 4 year old kids as a part of our evening routine. The benefits of reading aloud to this set are well known; access to the world of stories being the most obvious, parental connection and shared enjoyment of stories being others. Fun aside, reading aloud is widely recognized as the single most important activity for literacy acquisition (SO SERIOUS, but still, no surprise there!).

But what about older children who can read independently? They are often eager to read alone, and can be impatient with the slower pace of read-alouds, making them reluctant listeners. But it’s increasingly acknowledged that even fluent readers gain a tremendous amount from being read to. As Jim Trelease, the author of the Read Aloud Handbook points out, a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his or her comprehension level until around 8th grade. Reading aloud to this literate set can provide access to more sophisticated literature than they’re capable of comfortably tackling themselves, not to mention strengthen their listening skills and patience (which may have amazing real world benefits!).

As the passionate TEDx speaker below and the author of this piece on KQED’s MindShift describe, there are other reasons it’s a good idea to continue reading with children as long as they will let us. For one, the physical closeness that reading aloud usually brings creates an effortless intimacy (already something that I appreciate with our no-longer-snuggly six year old). We can ensure reading is a fun, shared experience that is joyful, rather than stressful (particularly important for beginning or struggling readers). It also offers parents an entry point to help children think through big issues — social, emotional, or geopolitical — which are challenging to address through direct discussion (or the snoring parental lecture!).

Choosing books for the family read-aloud also lets parents introduce books that kids wouldn’t pick themselves (while we get to sneakily broaden their horizons — I’m looking at you, Thomas the Tank Engine and Star Wars!). At our house, we usually let each child choose one picture book (or section of a long chapter book) and choose one ourselves (it takes anywhere from 15–30 minutes total for all three choices). For us, reading aloud is also an easy way to introduce French and Indian stories, places and culture to our children. Just 15 minutes a day can make a difference!

An area where reading aloud to older children can be more directly helpful is when reading the likes of Dickens and Shakespeare. As Jessica Lahey, educator and author notes in the Atlantic, she often reads aloud in her 7th and 8th grade classrooms, because “it’s the best way to ease students into challenging language and rhetoric.” Listening is also no doubt the best way to encounter poetry and verse, and language such as Shakespeare’s, meant for performance.

We’re all on board with why reading aloud to our kids is important; here are five best practice reminders for how, from The Read Aloud Handbook:

  1. Begin reading aloud to children at birth (American Association of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians promote reading to children from infancy).
  2. Before beginning, always say the name of the book, the author and illustrator. (I only started this recently, but it’s amazing how excited the kids get when they recognize a familiar author.)
  3. The first time you read a book, ask “What do you think this is going to be about?” (I rarely do this, or really discuss the stories much, but will try and remind myself to do this and also take a moment for discussion at the end).
  4. The most common mistake in reading aloud is reading too fast. (Guilty as charged!). Slow down enough so children have enough time to look at pictures (if there are any) and more importantly, to build mental pictures of what they’ve heard.
  5. It’s ok if very young children (or older ones!) can’t focus for too long. Sometimes, letting them doodle or build with Lego while listening can help.

And most important….Focus on the fun!

As Lucy Calkins notes in her inspiring book “Raising Lifelong Learners”, “We must stop pointing at and calling attention to every word as we read it, stop nudging our kids to read part of the book themselves, stop instructing them on vocabulary words, stop checking that the story means the same to them as it does to us. In short, we must stop grilling them with little questions…when I read aloud, my goal is to snuggle around the warm glow of a story.

Personally, I just can’t resist the warm glow of a story myself. The opportunity to read all the children’s classics I never had access to and experience them for the first time along with my kids is too good to pass up! Happy Reading everyone (and thanks for reading this)!

Nitasha

What are some favorite read-alouds at your house? Do you think reading to independent readers is important? or a recipe for disaster? Was reading aloud a part of your own childhood?

Love to hear your thoughts, as always!

Great reads about story-telling and the importance of reading aloud:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/jun/04/fiction

Storytelling for adults makes a comeback: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jan/06/storytelling-back-in-fashion

More on the benefits of reading aloud to older kids here

Some great read-aloud book lists:

https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2013/dec/09/book-doctor-reading-aloud

https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/may/27/top-10-books-to-read-aloud-to-children-william-sutcliffe

Suggestions for exciting read-alouds without character voices here

Two great listens:

How to Get Teens to Read: August 24, 2016 On Point episode with Tom Ashbrook and guest David Denby, New Yorker writer and author of Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives. Great reminder of how the focus on pleasure is the key to raising a reader!

The Father-Daughter Reading Streak that lasted nearly 9 years — NPR’s story on Alice Ozma and The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared.

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2 Comments

  1. Finally getting around to reading this and loved it, particularly the point about not grilling the child on the meaning of the book or the vocab and also letting them doodle if it’s a particularly long read. I’ve also been reading at times other than bedtime when it seems like the perfect activity, like afternoons for instance. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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