Besides the academic benefits of reading to our children, reading aloud provides an opportunity for quality family bonding time and creates wonderful lasting memories.
So, what are some of the benefits of reading aloud?
Read-alouds build reading, writing, thinking, listening and observational skills. Children learn new words, build background knowledge, and develop interests. Reading aloud also helps lengthen a child's attention span. (If your children are fidgety and have difficulty keeping still, let them draw or do something quietly by themselves while you read.)
What do you read?
If you're reading to infants and toddlers, snuggle up together with picture books. Goodnight Moon and Make Way for Ducklings are great choices, as both of these books are known for helping children learn the sounds that make up the English language. Younger children love books that rhyme, so Mother Goose rhymes and Dr. Suess books are perfect for read-alouds. When children are old enough to pick out books for themselves, let them—even if it means reading the same book for the hundredth time. (It will happen, trust me.) Then, as your children get older, move on to chapter books and novels.
While children typically make the gradual transition from board books to novels, don't be afraid to read a novel to a younger child (as long as it isn't too complex) or a picture book to a teenager. If it will hold their attention or spark their imagination, whether it's a poem, an informational article, a short story, or a novel, read it! Need help choosing books? Ask your librarian—your best resource ever! You will also find many websites offering book lists on the internet. We recommend the Recommended Books list at Read Aloud America, the Great Read-Alouds and Memorable Books! list at the Niskayuna Central School District's website, and this downloadable Interactive Read Aloud PDF file from The Reading & Writing Project.
If you're planning to read something you haven't read before, practice reading the selection before you read it to your child. If you discover words significant to the story that your child hasn't learned, be prepared to explain their meanings. If there are situations your child hasn't been exposed to, have a brief discussion before you begin reading or be ready to give explanations when the situations come up. Asking questions improves literacy, so make sure your child knows that it's okay to interrupt if they need you to clarify something you have read.
When should you read?
Anytime is a good time to read, provided you'll be free from distractions. Aim for about 15 minutes a day. In the morning, before school, after lunch, before dinner, at bedtime, and even when your child is upset about something or when your child is ill. You can also incorporate read-alouds into your homeschool. A story can be a great discussion starter, so allow time to talk about the selection when you are finished. Make a conscious effort to pace yourself when you read to your child. Don't be in a hurry to finish the selection, and don't read it too slowly. Read with passion, don't be afraid to show your emotions, and speak clearly and fluently.
A few books we recommend:
- The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, now in its 6th edition, offers evidence in support of reading aloud and includes a remarkable Treasury of Read-Alouds, a guide to recommended titles from picture books to novels. (This book makes a great gift for new and expectant parents, too!)
- HEY! LISTEN TO THIS: Stories to Read Aloud is a collection of 48 read-aloud stories aimed primarily at the kindergarten through fourth-grade levels, all selected and annotated with commentary by Jim Trelease.
- READ ALL ABOUT IT!: Great Read-Aloud Stories, Poems, and Newspaper Pieces for Preteens and Teens is another great book by Jim Trelease. It comprises of a collection of 50 read-aloud stories and articles aimed primarily at preteens and teens, also annotated with commentary.
- Easy-to-Tell Stories for Young Children is a collection of 12 stories adapted specifically for young listeners and designed to be read without the help of a book (but you can). I especially love that Annette Harrison offers suggestions on when and how to tell each story.
- Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children: Selections from Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, O.Henry, London, Longfellow, Irving Aesop, Homer, Cervantes, Hawthorne, and More is a collection of short stories, poems, legends, and myths from great works of literature that are especially appropriate for parents to read aloud to their children aged five to twelve.
- Read-Aloud Anthology by Scholastic is a collection of 35 short read-alouds that includes stories, poems, speeches, magazine articles, memoirs, and more. Recommended for grades 5 and up.
Ready to get started? Thinking about stopping?
Many summer reading programs have provisions allowing parents to read to children learning to read, so the summer is a great time to take advantage of these opportunities and start a read-aloud routine. Already reading? Great! Don't stop...ever! Seriously. Many parents stop reading to their kids once they start reading for themselves or once their children decide they're "too old" to be read to. But even teenagers enjoy a good story, just be sure to choose selections that interest them. Reading aloud benefits children on so many levels, don't miss out on this special opportunity. It's never to late to start!