I have read aloud to my children since they were born, first board books, then picture books, and finally novels. I didn’t do this because I was convinced of the educational value of reading aloud or because I had read studies on the impact of reading on education. I did it because my mom read to my siblings and me when we were kids. The memories I have of her reading a novel to us on hot summer afternoons while we all lay around the living room right after lunch or huddled under a tarp during one of our many rainy camp outs will remain with me fondly forever. I wanted my kids to experience those books in that way.
She read Summer of the Monkeys, My Side of the Mountain, Little House on the Prairie, A Cricket in Times Square and dozens and dozens of other novels.
That is how my love affair with books began. I realized that books that were entertaining and I wanted to read more of them. Simple as that.
Why Reading Aloud is Important
Hands down the most important school skill a person can learn is how to read and read well. It’s so important that if kids don’t learn to read with ease then every other subject will also suffer. If academics suffer, kids give up and stop learning. In adult life this translates to poor life choices, limited employment opportunities and lower wages, and a decreased capacity to pursue happiness.
I have noticed however that promises of future utility do not convince children of the importance of mundane and difficult tasks like learning to read.
People, especially kids, are motivated by immediate rewards. Reading aloud to a child teaches them that there is pleasure and reward in books. The stories or information are interesting. Kids want to hear more. They begin to understand that books are entertainment as well as information.
Most importantly though books should be associated with the voice, time, attention, and physical touch of a loving parent. Kids crave affection. Sharing a book together is an intimate experience. The child nestles against the parent and they share ideas as well as space and time.
Kids who are read to have an enormous advantage over kids who are not. The child has the opportunity to hear rich and varied language, associate print with pleasure, feel loved, and learn much more widely about their world. Reading is how large vocabularies are nurtured, not though flash cards or workbooks. Large vocabularies and wide experiences through books make understanding of everything else much more accessible.
Kids who are read to feel much more motivated to learn to read on their own because they have already experienced the pleasure of a book. Until they master the skill themselves they can only feel that pleasure when someone else has time for them. The words, symbols on the page, and vocabulary they learn through listening and watching a parent read to them smooth the way and breed familiarity that makes learning to read well much easier.
How To Read Aloud To Your Child
You can start reading to your kids from birth. You can also start reading to them now, whatever age they are. It is never too late to share stories and create traditions of literacy in your family. I read to all of my children right up to my 18 year old. My husband even listens in. My younger kids love picture book and either I or my husband reads to them most nights, just the two boys, book after book, until Mom or Dad’s stamina is played out.
I also read novels to the whole family each evening before everyone is sent to bed. They are usually from the junior fiction category but sometimes we read adult or young adult novels. During school I read a different novel to the four younger kids (1st grade through 8th grade) for half an hour in the middle of the school day while they practice drawing skills with “how-to-draw” books.
Keeping younger kids occupied while you read aloud to them will greatly increase their attention spans. Play dough, Legos, drawing, or similar activities that occupy the hands, but not the mind are perfect.
What To Read Aloud
A great read aloud book has lots of action and gets right into the story from the beginning. Especially for younger kids or kids who are being read to for the first time, books with long descriptions are difficult and off putting. If you want to read a book with some of these long descriptions you can read ahead and mark the boring parts, so as to skip them, in the great tradition of the Princess Bride.
Here are some great novels to read aloud to your children.
- My Side of the Mountain
- Summer of the Monkeys
- Where the Red Fern Grows
- Harry Potter Series
- Little House on the Prairie Series
- Ranger’s Apprentice Series
- The Black Cauldron
- Black Beauty
- Tuesdays at the Castle
- Stuart Little
- Charlotte’s Web
- The Trumpet of the Swan
- Tucket Series
- A Cricket in Times Square
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- The Secret Garden
- Five Children and It
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- The Hobbit
- The Black Stallion
- Rabbit Hill
- Penderwick Series
- Princess Bride
- Redwall Series
Do you have more great read aloud selections or stories of reading aloud in your family? Add them to the comments, below!
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