Before I even became a parent, I knew the importance of reading aloud to children. As a kindergarten teacher, I would hold story time every day after lunch to help my students decompress and relax from all of the playground drama. It was everyone’s favorite part of the day. As an expectant mother, I collected books and lined the shelves of my son’s nursery in preparation for his arrival. I even read to my belly because I wanted him to know my voice. When he was born and had medical complications, I read aloud in order to bond with him before I could physically hold and nurture him.
I knew reading aloud was important. I knew reading was knowledge. I knew children who were read to every day typically performed better at school. I knew I wanted to foster a love of reading in my children. But, like most parents, I figured I would stop reading aloud to my children when they could read proficiently on their own. I thought this until a few years ago when I stumbled across a few books that would totally change the way I looked at reading with my children.
Read-Aloud Reference Books
In 1982, Jim Trelease published The Read-Aloud Handbook in which he aimed to educate parents on the importance of reading aloud to your children, even after they can read on their own. In 2018, Sarah Mackenzie wrote The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids where she credits Trelease as her mentor and continues his legacy by inspiring parents in our now digital age to do the same. Both of these books are full of a wealth of information. I’ve learned so much from these two authors and you can too; however, I thought I’d provide you with my two greatest takeaways to inspire you to get started at home:
1. Read Aloud to Your Children No Matter Their Age
Takeaway #1 is really a simple concept. The same benefits that younger children receive from being read to still apply to older children, even those that are proficient readers themselves. Reading aloud is a bonding experience. In our digital age when distractions are around every corner, taking the time to read to your children can help secure the parent-child relationship. Furthermore, good stories tend to open up conversations and give us a springboard to teaching our children about all sorts of character traits. Being exposed to good literature can provide endless learning experiences by transporting the listener to different times, places, and points of view.
From an educational standpoint, reading aloud builds vocabulary and, in turn, affects language patterns. In The Read-Aloud Handbook, Trelease cites the 1985 Commission on Reading whose research suggested that “the single most important activity for building knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children” (4). He also discusses research performed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that suggested that taking the time to read aloud to your children is more effective than paying for tutoring or private education (10).
2. Read Aloud and Connect Meaningful Experiences
Takeaway #2 is another very simple concept. When memorable activities or events are tied to a book, our brain associates pleasure with reading. This, in turn, creates a love of reading that will follow us all of our lives. I still remember reading The Indian in the Cupboard and taking a field trip with my classmates to see the movie in the theatre. I have an awful memory, but this is still with me today, as well as an intense love of reading.
About a year ago I read Winter Days in the Big Woods (an illustrated adaption to the Little House series) to my boys. After reading, we made bread and homemade butter just like the family in the book. A full year later, my boys still seek out Little House books at the library and pull other experiences from the text that they want to try. Sleep in the same bed? Sure! Walk to town? OK… Hunt for jackrabbits? Probably not! The bottom line is that when we connect pleasurable experiences with reading, it changes how our brain feels about reading. It becomes less of a task and more of a life-long hobby.
Get Started Reading Aloud Today
I’ve bombarded you with a lot of information, but how does this all translate into real life? After reading The Read Aloud Handbook and The Read Aloud Family, my head was spinning with all of the great ideas that were offered up. I was so inspired that I wanted to get all new books for my children. I wanted to light the fire and read aloud to them while they snuggled up under each arm. I wanted to plan elaborate activities for each book that would 100% ensure a lifetime love of reading. But then I realized that was crazy. So here is what I’ve been doing instead…
About once a month, I find a new book to read aloud to my children. Sometimes I check the book out from the library and sometimes I purchase it to keep. I look for books that I can easily connect with a memorable activity. And then we do it!
Here are just a few ideas, but the possibilities are endless:
Read a Book + Create a Project
- Read Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens and plant a vegetable garden.
- Read Ish by Peter H. Reynolds and draw still life items around your house.
- Read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig and paint rocks.
Read a Book + Make a Recipe
- Read The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and make a cake.
- Read Be-Bim Bop Linda Sue Park and make Bibimbap.
- Read James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and grill peaches for dessert.
Read a Book + Go on a Field Trip
- Read Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and then visit the Michigan Science Center.
- Read The Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and take a trip to your local library.
- Read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry and visit the Holocaust Memorial Center.
Read a Book + Watch a Movie
- The Witches by Roald Dahl
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
- The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
I hope I’ve inspired you to make reading a long-lasting and memorable experience in your household!