As our children grow and mature, begin to leave us bit by bit, it is natural for us to let them lead. We wait, on pins and needles, watching for the moment when we know that they can read, can piece together words and make sense of them. In our relief, that parenting hurdle over, of course we move on, tending to new skills. Research tells us to give our children independence, but educators are also finding that students also benefit when there is a healthy balance of independence and support from parents. One way that we can continue to be a part of our children’s reading and writing lives is to read aloud to them. It never occurred to me to stop reading aloud to my son even though he is a capable reader because to me, sharing a good story together seems like a natural way to close our day. However, there are cognitive and social benefits far beyond this relaxing family time together.
Reading with your child is firstly, an advertisement for reading and good books. In our modern society, children are exposed to over three thousand commercial messages a day. This nightly reading time is a chance for you to control the message for once. Our children want to do what they see us do. And if you take the time to read with your child, they will want to read, too.
There are vocabulary and comprehension benefits, too. Print language is naturally more complex than our verbal shorthand. A child’s comprehension level doesn’t catch up to his reading level until around eighth grade. This means that children are able to understand stories of much more complexity than they can read. Using this skill, advances abstract thinking, which students must have to master not only reading and writing concepts, but mathematics, science and history as well. Exposing children to literature beyond their reading level opens the door to exciting plot structures and advanced imagery, the blood and bones of what makes books grand. And your kid is ready for it, even if they can’t read it yet. These more intricate and involved stories will entice your child, will motivate him or her to keep reading. They will also sharpen the skills they need to tackle the academic work that will become more and more abstract as your child moves through elementary and middle school.
Reading aloud with your child also lets you experience diverse and difficult topics together, ones that seem forced without the backdrop of a story. In fifth grade, I suddenly became a different child, bratty, sarcastic, entitled. My parents did everything from ground me to send me to soup kitchens to ladle stew for the homeless. Nothing changed. And although reading Huck Finn, Johnny Tremain, and A Wrinkle in Time did not change my behavior over night, there was a slow awakening within me. I began to understand that I lived a blessed life. No amount of nagging or punishment could have given me that awareness.
In school, we expect our students to read a lot. They need this practice. However, if the only place that children are enjoying books is school, than reading become synonymous with work. That’s not what we want for our children. I finished a book recently and literally wandered my house for the next hour, stunned, simultaneously sad and joyful. We want our children to understand that the written word can make us laugh, cry, make us better people. There is research that shows that readers are happier people, more accepting, generous, kind! I know we all want this for our children.
Here are two lists of fantastic read alouds. Begin a good book together this evening!