The Wonder of Reading Aloud

Reading aloud to our children, is it a lost art?  In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, are we forgetting how important it is to read to our children?  For my family, it is a tradition.  It is something we have always done.  When I was a little girl, my mom and my dad both read aloud to me.  I have fond memories of snuggling with my mom, reading the The Little House on the Prairie series, The Children of Green Knowe, Half Magic, and many more.  My dad and I often read books in his big leather chair.  I loved reading Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever with him as a little girl, and I remember the closeness we felt after a particularly tearful reading of Where the Red Fern Grows when I was older.  They would read and I would listen, but once I was able to, I would also sometimes read along.

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I started reading to my boys as babies.  We started with board books of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and Guess How Much I Love You, and moved on to picture books and then took off from there on to longer and longer chapter books.  Now we usually read books in the evening with them, sometimes my husband will read a book with one son while I read to the other, and other times we read together as a whole family.  But they still aren’t too big to also sometimes read a picture book or several Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky poems together in the afternoon.  If I offer to read aloud in the afternoon these days they’ll usually turn me down since they are busy with other things.  So sometimes I will just start reading and they will come and sit on either side of me to hear the story.

The benefits of reading aloud are great.  Research shows that more exposure to words in the home leads to a greater vocabulary.  Reading aloud sure provides lots of words in the home, and often words that we wouldn’t use in normal conversation!  When we come to a word that I don’t think my kids have heard, we stop and talk about it, just like my mom used to do with me when I was little.  Side benefits of reading aloud include a stronger connection with each other, due to the shared experience and the snuggling…physical contact is always good.

“Children who are read to at home read more on their own.”  Stephen Krashen, The Power of Reading (2004).

A few things to keep in mind:

  1. It’s never too late to start reading aloud! Even if you haven’t read to your child up to this point, you can start now!  Go to the library with her and decide on something to read together.  Programs in the schools, like One School One Book, encourage families to start this tradition during elementary school.  Don’t miss the opportunity to share reading aloud.
  2. Don’t stop reading aloud too soon! If you used to read aloud to your child, but now feel that he’s too old for that since he doesn’t bring you books to read anymore, reconsider.   There is value in the shared time together and keep reading aloud as long as you can, at least up until middle school, if not later!
  3. Reading aloud should be enjoyable, not a chore. Make a date of it if you need to, find a special place to read, and snuggle in for a good read.  If you are enjoying yourself, your child will pick up on that and will also love reading with you.  Conversely, if you dread reading to your child, your child will begin to feel the same way about reading.
  4. If your child doesn’t want to sit and listen, it’s OK. Don’t force your child to read sitting right next to you. If you have a tough customer, don’t give up.  Instead, offer another activity in the room while you read.  At times, my sons have worked on puzzles or built with Legos while one of us reads to them in the same room.
  5. Deciding what to read next doesn’t have to be hard. The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is a great resource to use to start.  My mom used this back in the early ‘80s to find great books to read, and I have used several updated editions since then.  This is a great resource to add to your family library.  Try to pick books that you will enjoy as well as your child.  There will be times, especially in the toddler years, when you will be asked to read the same book again and again, and you likely won’t enjoy that as much, but if you have a good source of some new titles, you can check some out at the library and have those nearby to suggest!

Some books to read aloud

Not every book makes a great read-aloud.  Some books are actually surprisingly difficult to read aloud and are much better books to be read to ourselves.  Some of our family’s favorite read-alouds have been:

Picture Books:

 Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parrish

  The Caboose Who Got Loose, by Bill Peet (and other Bill Peet books)

  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault

  The Circus Ship, by Chris Van Dusen

  Green Eggs and Ham, but Dr. Seuss (and other Dr. Seuss books)

  Pirate Pete’s Talk Like a Pirate, by Kim Kennedy

  The Snail and the Whale, by Julia Donaldson

  Truckery Rhymes, by Jon Scieszka

  We Are in a Book!, by Mo Willems (and other Mo Willems books)

Chapter Books:

  Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo

  The BFG, by Roald Dahl (and other Roald Dahl books)

  Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

  Five Children & It, by E. Nesbit

  Junie B. Jones series, by Barbara Park

  The Littles, by John Peterson

  Magic Treehouse Series, by Mary Pope Osborne

  The Mouse and the Motorcycle,   The Ramona series (and other Beverly Cleary books)


Where the Sidewalk Ends (and other Shel Silverstein poetry books)

The New Kid on the Block (and other Jack Prelutsky poetry books)

“Parents need to know that children will get far more benefit from being read to, from seeing parents read for pleasure, and from reading comics, graphic novels, magazines, and books, than they will from working through workbooks on sale at the local drug store.”  Stephen Krashen, The Power of Reading (2004).

Reading aloud is so important, we need to make it a priority.  Take time to read to your child.  Give it a try, and if you already read aloud with your child, encourage someone else to give it a try!

Happy Reading!

P.S.  While I was writing this post, a friend shared with me about a podcast and blog called The Read Aloud Revival.  How’s that for timing?  I am excited to check it out:

Krashen, Stephen D.  The Power of Reading:  Insights from the Research.  Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.  Print.