No one questions the idea that reading aloud to young children is a good thing. Reading aloud to children not only helps develop their literacy skills but fosters closeness between parent and child.
At a certain point, however, parents inevitably stop reading to their children, as children become independent readers capable of reading to themselves. There is evidence, however, to suggest that parents (and teachers) should continue to read aloud to older children up to age 14, even after they become fluent in reading. Here are some important reasons parents should continue to read out loud to tweens:
- Children hear better than they read. According to Jim Trelease, author of the Read-Aloud Handbook, a child's reading level isn't on par with his listening level until the eighth grade. Trelease says that parents "can and should be reading seventh-grade books to fifth-grade kids," as this helps gets kids buzzed about storylines and plots and will motivate them to keep reading. Kids are capable of appreciating a more complicated plot than the one in a story they can read to themselves. Reading aloud to them will keep kids coming back for more as they develop and improve their own independent reading skills.
- Books can teach life lessons painlessly. As kids get closer to their teens, there are all kinds of dangers lurking that parents wish they could discuss with their teens frankly. But parents also know their counsel will go in one ear and out the other. Reading a story together about a pregnant teen, such as Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, or a teen who struggles with addiction, such as Go Ask Alice, can be a poignant but safe way to learn about life without lectures. Use read aloud sessions to generate discussion and explore feelings, ideas and social issues.
- Reading aloud is pleasurable. Parents' busy lives and a child's ability to read independently may seem like good reasons to stop reading bedtime stories. It's like pushing a baby bird out of the nest to force it to fly. Parents hope that by now they've instilled a love of reading in their children and that they will continue to read on their own. But no child ever wants to give up that bedtime story, and there is no reason to think that children won't read on their own in addition to having stories read aloud to them by their parents. Parents enjoy reading to their children and their children enjoy having books read aloud to them. This is a good enough reason to continue. You are fostering a love of reading in your child. Also, think of the read aloud session as a chance to introduce children to wonderful authors kids might not learn about in school.
- Reading aloud stimulates vocabulary growth. Researchers have found that books contain more sophisticated language than children are likely to hear in spoken language. Books, furthermore, contain 50 percent more rare words than prime-time television shows or a typical college-level conversation between students. If you've ever struggled to define a word for a child, you know how difficult it can be to find a way to create a logical explanation of a word's meaning. It is so much easier to understand a word in context. When you read aloud, you're offering rich, rare words, even words never heard before to your children. But you're giving them those words in context, so they are more easily understood and absorbed. Don't be surprised when a tween uses one of those fancy words in the days following a read aloud session. Tweens are often beset by strong emotions. It can be a relief to have these new words to help them express their complicated feelings.
- Reading together offers an excuse for parents and children to be next to each other. At a certain point, kids age out of cuddling with their parents. Reading aloud means reader and listener sitting reasonably close to each other. It's not quite the same as a snuggle, but it means spending time together in close proximity. It's comforting, especially for kids in the thick of pre-adolescent angst. It's also just plain nice. Your child will have all these great associations with reading and books.
- Reading aloud shows us we're not so different from others after all. Tweens and teens spend a lot of time feeling they aren't like other people. They feel lonely, like they don't fit in or belong. A well-written book can span the gap between these perceptions and the reality, through apt descriptions of the human condition. When parent and child read a book like this together, it brings them close, and brings understanding of each other and the world. This helps to ease that sense of loneliness so often experienced by the older child.
Read Aloud Tips:
- The amount of time you spend reading aloud is up to you. You may want to choose to read a chapter each night, or perhaps a poem or an essay. Leave time for discussion.
- Choose a book you will enjoy reading. You should be able to convey your enjoyment to your child.
- Short stories and essays are great for reading aloud because you don't have to leave your child in suspense to hear the end. Suspense is highly overrated, especially for children, who may become annoyed at cliff-hangers or, worse yet, lose interest.
- Find a book that you don't have to struggle to read. The language should feel comfortable and easy in your mouth. You don't want to have to stop to look up pronunciations and definitions because this will interrupt the flow and make your reading stilted and unpleasant to hear.
- The best time to read aloud to your tween is when you have cleared away your responsibilities so you don't feel rushed or tense when you read aloud. Your child's sense of enjoyment comes in part from the enjoyment you convey when you read aloud. If you're stressed, you're not going to have a good time reading to your child, and your child won't enjoy listening to you, either.
For a list of good read aloud material for older children (6-8 grade), see the suggested reading list at Read Aloud America.