Reading aloud to our children – it’s a nightly ritual in homes all over the world, right before tucking them into bed and kissing them good-night.
But what happens as our children get older and start to read on their own? Only 17% of parents still read to their children after age 9.
Many parents assume that once our children have learned to read independently, they don’t need or want us to read to them anymore. Yet 87% of children Age 6 through 11 reported that they love(d) or like(d) being read to, and many of those children who are not read to said they wish their parents had continued reading to them.
There are so many reasons to keep reading aloud to our children even into their teens. Here are my top 5:
- It increases vocabulary and background knowledge. There are numerous studies that confirm the link between vocabulary knowledge and academic success.
What’s the best way to increase your child’s vocabulary? Most vocabulary (85%) is learned indirectly by hearing and interacting with new words. Book language is rich, with complicated sentences and sophisticated vocabulary. Your children can listen to and understand many more words than they may be able to actually read on their own. As a matter of fact, children’s reading vocabulary doesn’t catch up to their listening vocabulary until about Age 13.
So parents can help their children choose read-aloud books written at a reading level one or two years above current reading level (of course, within their interest and maturity levels).
- It increases attention span. We live in the age of distraction. Our children, more than any generation before, are bombarded with digital information, and the average attention span has decreased 50% from a decade ago to less than five minutes! When we read aloud to our children, their attention is sustained as they follow complicated plots, visualize characters, and think deeply about the messages and connections in the story. Parents can gradually increase the length of read-aloud time as their child’s attention span improves.
- It promotes the pleasure of reading. A study by Scholastic revealed that only 51% of children read for fun, down from 60% in 2010. The sharpest decline in reading for pleasure was for children over eight years old.
A big reason for this decline (besides the prevalence of digital entertainment) is that many children view reading as “work” if it is something only done in school and required. (My daughter would use the term “forced reading” to describe assigned books in school.) And there are so many wonderful, memorable young adult books out there to enjoy.
I recommend using goodreads.com if you would like guidance in choosing books. They have synopses of books as well as reviews by the young adults reading them. You can easily find books to match your child’s interests and favorite genres.
- It develops empathy. We all want our children to be empathetic – to grow up knowing how to be a good friend, to show compassion, and to bring kindness into the world. Can reading to your child do that? Yes, it can! Or at least it can help.
Studies show that reading fiction improves readers’ ability to understand and empathize with others. This is because fiction focuses on the psychology of characters and their relationships. When reading fiction, children are able to see into the minds of the characters, and they understand that other people can have thoughts and emotions different from theirs.
Here is a link to some wonderful young adult stories with characters with whom your child can become deeply engaged: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/empathy
While I haven’t read them all, I can highly recommend these three: Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, Counting by Sevens, by Holly Goldberg Sloan, and El Deafo, by Cece Bell.
- It can deal with difficult issues. Sometimes, talking to our kids can be difficult. We start to feel that we are being preachy (which we probably are). In the “Tween” years, children want and need our guidance but don’t always want to ask for it.
Reading aloud can act as a bridge to conversations with your children about difficult issues. Questions about fitting in, staying true to self, peer pressure, drinking, divorce, bullying – all these topics and more are found within the pages of young adult books.
Talking about the problems a character in a book is having can make discussions more objective and easier for kids. After reading a section of a book, asking questions such as, “Do you think [character] was being sincere?” or “What would have been a better choice for [character]?” can start a productive conversation. When you talk about a book or character together, it’s not lecturing. It’s guiding conversation.
Children Age 6-11 are more likely to read on their own for pleasure if they are currently read aloud to at home. Let’s remind our children that reading can make you laugh, can make you cry, can call you to action, and can STIR YOUR SOUL!
Please feel free to post your comments or questions below. I am happy to answer any and all questions.