[Do you read aloud to your older kids? Our family read aloud time includes my 10 year old and I hope he continues to listen to my melodious voice (ha ha) well into his teens. Amy of Sunlit Pages is here to chat about the importance of continuing to read aloud to your kids even after they are fluent readers themselves. – Erica]
I am counting down the days to summer vacation. I love our daily to-do lists, summer goals, and unstructured free time. But mostly, I love the extra time to read aloud to my kids.
My oldest is six years old and finishing up first grade. He is a strong reader and reads many books on his own, but I still grab any chance I can get to read aloud to him. I didn’t think there was anything odd about this (he is only six, after all!), but recently, I was talking to a friend, and she mentioned that she wasn’t reading aloud to her daughter too often any more because she was able to read so well on her own.
She said it almost like the two went hand-in-hand: the better they read, the less you read to them. Whereas, in fact, the two are completely separate.
I can remember both my mom and my dad reading books aloud to my siblings and me all the way through high school (Little Britches and A Little Princess were among our favorites). And in the early days of my marriage, my husband and I often read aloud together (I’ll never forget the Saturday morning we lazily stayed in bed in order to finish Jane Eyre). There is something so wonderfully satisfying about enjoying a good book together.
Families think nothing about having a family movie night, but having a family reading night seems sadly to be a tradition of the past. But here are five reasons why I think you should hold tight to this precious time with your children and make this a long-lasting habit:
I have four crazy boys. None of them are the type to sit still for very long. If I didn’t read to them, my physical interactions might be limited to a good-bye kiss in the morning and a good-night hug at bedtime. But when I pull out our book, they snuggle in close. They fight over who gets to be next to me so that we have to take turns. I can rub the back of one while another one rests his head on my shoulder. While it will certainly change as they grow older, even being in the same room together and sitting next to each other provides that physical closeness that strengthens the love and affection we feel for one another. In a way, it has nothing to do with what we’re actually reading aside from the fact that the reading gives us the excuse to make sure it happens.
New Vocabulary and Writing Styles
Right now, my six-year-old’s favorite books are in the Dragonbreath series. He’s building up his reading fluency and speed, and they’re great for that, but they’re not exactly the most sophisticated books out there. Reading aloud gives me the chance to introduce him and his brothers to literature that he might get bogged down with on his own. For example, one of our recent reads was Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. My kids loved it, but the plot was very intricate with many flashbacks and copious details. On his own, my son might have become bored or discouraged, but together, we could review important points, define difficult or unfamiliar words, or speculate on what was going to happen next. Reading together allows you to read above their level and introduce them to new words, ideas, and writing styles.
A few months ago, we were reading Ramona the Brave. The story opens with Beezus being made fun of by some older boys on the playground and getting called an inappropriate name. This initiated a discussion on bullying, name calling, and which words are not appropriate to say. Stories are often the perfect jumping off point for discussing difficult subjects (death, illness, cruelty, moving, losing a job) as well as some really wonderful subjects (marriage, a new baby, trying something new, vacations). Sometimes you might not even discuss anything at the time, but just having a scene from a story as a future reference point can help children build their arsenal of experiences.
Familiar language and culture
When you read together, you create a language and culture that is unique to your family. For example, we are huge Mercy Watson fans and have frequent requests for “Mercy Watson toast, please!” Soon after reading The Cricket in Times Square, we heard a cricket chirping somewhere outside, and one of my sons was convinced it was Chester. And there’s nothing like seeing a single bite taken out of an apple to remind us all of the time Ramona Quimby did that to an entire box of apples. Reading together provides an endless supply of inside jokes, quotes, and references that become a much-loved part of your family’s culture.
On occasion, I’ll hear a friend say something like, “I’d love to read to my kids, but I just get so tired of reading those types of books.” To which I say, “Then you’re reading the wrong books!” Not all children’s literature is created equal. Far from it. And if you’re reading the bland, formulaic series that are so popular with developing readers or, even worse, character books based on movies, then it’s no wonder you aren’t all that excited to read aloud to your children for a half hour every evening! The key is to choose literature that is engaging to both of you, and I promise that it’s out there. (Erica’s book lists are an invaluable resource for choosing good literature, as are book awards lists or asking your librarian or child’s teacher.) Each night, I can hardly wait to read to my kids because I’m as excited as they are to find out what happens next. I remember when we were nearing the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and it was past their bedtime, but I couldn’t make myself stop because we were all enjoying it so much. If that has not been your experience, stop whatever you’re reading and choose something else.
Of course, like I said before, my oldest is only six years old, so take all of my suggestions with that limited experience in mind. We’ve still got a long stretch of time in front of us, and I’m sure things will change as he and his brothers grow older. But I see no reason for prematurely cutting off our reading time together, and I see many reasons for protecting and treasuring it.
I’d love to hear about what reading aloud looks like in your family. How old is your child? How have you continued the read aloud tradition as he/she has grown up? What have been some of your favorite books to read aloud together?
Note from Erica:
These book lists were especially designed with older readers in mind:
- Chapter books with old fashioned flair
- Read alouds for 8-11 year olds
- Funny read alouds
- The 20th century classics book list series.
- Summer read alouds
Amy is an avid reader and the mother of four rambunctious boys. Her life goal is to make them as obsessed with books as she is. (Judging from the dozens of books scattered all over her house, she has been successful so far.) She blogs at Sunlit Pages where she writes about a variety of books – from what she is currently reading to her kids’ favorite picture books.