Reading aloud to your children is so important. I cannot stress that enough. It may be one of the most important things you do for them, educationally speaking. Most parents can find the time to read a picture book or two with their infants and toddlers, but once a child learns to read, that snuggly read aloud time usually ends. But, I think it’s actually more important to continue that read aloud time, well into their school years.
That said, I can almost hear the inevitable: “But my child is fully capable of reading their own books… why should I read aloud to him/her?”
There are any number of reasons to do so, but I’ll start with listing my top 5!
5. Reading aloud creates a family bond!
Your children will fondly look back on their memories of listening to you read aloud, giggle over how you did “all the voices,” and fondly recall favorites stories. Just because a book is considered “children’s” literature, doesn’t mean it’s childish. Many of my favorite books are written for children! A good story is a good story, and you may find that you enjoy many great books just as much as your children (if not more!).
Getting to share my favorite stories with my daughter means, I get to enjoy those books in a whole new way. I got to see her excitement when Harry learns that he is a wizard and cry with her when Wilbur loses his best friend. We can have big, juicy discussions about the unfairness of death, the realities of racism, and how media affects our lives all while snuggled together on the couch enjoying a good story.
My favorite memory of Shayna’s childhood is reading out loud to her. I don’t think we stopped until she reached high school – and then, we continued to read out loud – but it usually involved newspaper articles, magazines and blogs! Today, in fact, as she is working on her PhD, she currently recommends “must read” books to me and then, we often discuss them.
Personally, I am counting down days until I am graced with grandchildren to do this again. Even if we do not live in the same part of the world, with the internet and global communication, it will be so easy to read them a bedtime story on SKYPE! However, in the meantime, I will just continue borrowing my neighbor’s children and read amazing books with them!
4. Reading aloud will help to stimulate their imagination.
When you read aloud, you don’t have to choose books at any particular reading level. When your daughter is still just getting comfortable with easy chapter books, you can also read aloud books far above her level. You can expose them to fantasy worlds full of talking animals, knights and battles, distant countries… the literary world is open to you!
Literature is peopled with characters that your children will want to emulate and filled with places they’ll want to pretend. Poetry will fill their minds with beautiful language and spark their own creativity with words and stories. Reading fairy tales and mythology with show them how stories have evolved over time and give them the cultural background to understanding many of the novels they will read over their lifetime.
3. Literature will expose them to difficult ideas and situations in a safe way.
Life is full of hard truths, and what better way to learn of them than from a beautifully written story read to them by someone they love and trust?
Charlotte’s Web shows that sometimes, a beloved friend dies, not from any terrible illness or violent act, but simply because it’s part of life.
Literature builds empathy! Your children will put themselves in the characters place, wondering how they would react in the same situation. Our world desperately needs more empathetic people; therefore, read to your children widely, about people who live far differently from them so that they can grow into compassionate and empathetic adults who will change the world.
2. Reading aloud to your children can increase their vocabulary.
Again, because you aren’t limited to choosing books within their reading level, you can expose them to a world of beautiful language. This will also help build their thinking skills – rather than interrupt the story to ask about a particular word, they’ll be more apt to use context clues to try and figure it out themselves. When you read good books together, you no longer need a separate vocabulary curriculum. If you want to go deeper, you can choose a word or two from a book every day, or just pepper your normal conversations with those words that you want them to pick up. The more they hear, the richer their vocabulary will become.
1. Reading to your children, daily, starting when they are very young, will build their attention span.
A child who’s been read to his whole life will be able to concentrate and pay attention to something for far longer than a child who spends all of his time playing video games or watching television.
Looking for some new books to read out loud? Here are some of my favorites:
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
- Amber Brown is not a Crayon by Paula Danziger
- The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
- Charlotte’s Web by EB White
- Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson
- The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson
- The Cat that Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger
- Nothing but the Truth by Avi
- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
- And…. ANY of Shel Silverstein’s Poetry!
To sum up, most importantly – reading to your children will give them a love of literature. I mourn for the children who grow up thinking Winnie the Pooh is just a brightly colored cartoon character and never get to meet Charlotte and Wilbur, Sara Crewe, Charlie Bucket and Tom Sawyer. Reading aloud will give them a respect for the written word, introduce them to the wide world and the great conversation and build their cultural literacy. It will give them a legacy of great literature to pass on to their own children.
Eva Goldstein-Meola is not only co-founder of Open Tent Academy, but an instructor as well as a former homeschooling mother. She has lived in New Jersey, Florida, Western Massachusetts, Northern Virginia and now resides just outside of Jerusalem. Eva holds a Master’s Degree as a Consulting Teacher of Reading and Writing, IEW certification and a Bachelor’s Degree as an Elementary Teacher. She has also been involved in education since 1986 as a Private Tutor, Teacher, Reading Specialist, Homeschooling Mother, Homeschooling Teacher and Business Owner of an Online Education Consortium.