We all know the importance of reading to young children, and bedtime stories have been a nightly ritual even when our kids were toddlers and would rather chew on the books than listen to them. However, we seem to think that once children learn to read on their own we do not need to read aloud to them anymore. This falls by the wayside especially as homework and extra-curricular activities vie for our attention. According to Scholastic’s “Kids and Family Reading Report”, more than half of children from the ages 0-5 are read aloud at home 5-7 days a week. This falls to 34% at ages 6-8, and 17% at ages 9-11. Even though my older daughter can easily read books by herself, she still loves being read to at night. It has been a ritual for us and bedtime just isn’t complete without a story or two. Yet it is so much more than that, these are some of the reasons it is important to read aloud to older kids:
Reading Level Vs. Listening Level
It is generally believed that a child’s reading level does not catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. What this means is that although an eight-year old child’s reading skills and abilities are what is expected of that age, their listening age may be that of a 10-12 year old. Reading aloud introduces children to, and gives them the opportunity to enjoy, literature that they may have difficulty reading on their own. I had tried to get my daughter interested in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, but she never got past the first two pages. Since we have started this book as our before bedtime read-aloud, she has gotten hooked and wants me to read more. As she follows along while I read out loud, she can see how certain words are emphasized, how we pause between commas and periods, and how to pronounce difficult words.
Difficult Subjects and Life Lessons
Stories are often a way for children to bring up issues that may be on their mind such as death, sickness, or moving to a new city. It is one of the best ways to help children understand situations without having to experience it themselves. Ever since one of my daughter’s classmates broke down crying in the middle of a lesson because she had found out her parents were getting divorced, it has occasionally come up in our conversations. This past weekend we were at a middle school where Kate DiCamillo (one of my daughter’s favorite authors) was reading from and talking about her newest book. While waiting for our turn to meet her and have her sign the new book, I read aloud Because of Winn-Dixie, DiCamillo’s first book. Here, ten-year old Opal lives with her father as her mother left them when she was three. In several of DiCamillo’s books, living with a single parent is a recurring theme as in her newest book Raymie Nightingale, where Raymie’s father runs off with a dental hygienist. Reading these books with her gives me the opportunity to talk about the situations, and her feelings about the characters in the books as well as her friend.
As our kids grow older, they spend more and more time away from home what with a full day of school during the week and extra-curricular activities and playdates during the weekend. Spending time together at night before bedtime when the house is quiet is a special way to strengthen the love and affection we feel for each other. My son, who can be quite gregarious and hardly has a moment of sitting still, snuggles up close and rests his head on my shoulder as I read. These are the moments that we will remember and I will treasure them and keep the ritual going for many years to come.
For more statistics on reading aloud, the podcast “Read Aloud Revival”, and lists of 20th century classic children’s books: