We love reading as a family, and reading together as a family. My sons literally pick up books and start reading throughout the day, which is a sort of miracle considering two years ago they loathed the “work” of (forced/required/assigned) reading. My older son will read a great book for school and then borrow the sequel from the library on his own to find out how the story continues. My younger son will want to learn more about a topic and ask me to pick him up some subject-specific books from the library so he could study more in-depth (about insects, hurricanes, whatever).
It’s fabulous, but it was difficult getting here. Mainly because of me, and my insistence on following standard, set reading curriculums, or popular book lists, or some other fixed teaching method that frankly just wasn’t for us (but I really tried to force it to be; learn from my mistakes and don’t do this). I felt that if we couldn’t complete a grade level book list, if one of the boys didn’t understand the story or have interest in the topic, or if they read graphic novels (I saw these as “easy” reading because of the pictures), then I was failing, and I felt very stressed, and then they felt my stress. It was not good.
Here is how to read aloud with children in a way that will actually bring fun, peace, togetherness, and a love of books to your home (which are the goals, right?).
Tips for Reading Aloud With Children
📚 Start early! I wish I had read to my sons daily since birth, but I didn’t. Children who are read to 15 minutes a day since birth tend to get off the charts reading scores (90th to 99th percentile) and really, really love the written word. I really believe reading aloud to your children (and nothing else) stretches their ability to comprehend so much that they can more easily conjecture what a new vocabulary word means in the context of the reading selection so much easier than their peers, and only because they heard quality language from adults for so long. It doesn’t matter when children learn to speak or learn to read as much as it matters that they hear quality language and good sentence structure from early on. This alone ensure they will very likely be well-spoken (when they do learn to speak), comprehend more in all areas of life (including book, when they do learn to read), and write clearly and in a comprehensive manner (whenever they may learn to write). If you didn’t start early, start now.
📚 If your child needs a forced-learning detox, give him a break and just make the offer of reading together, going to the library, etc. without demanding it. Let kids pick if they want to read to you or listen to you read to them, or take turns. Don’t force anything. Some children who literally hate books because they are being forced to read and report on books in a specific way before they were developmentally ready may need a lot of time to turn that around and realize books are not meant to torture them- they can be fun, informational, engaging, wonderful, and this is something that is discovered, not taught. I learned a trick that will help them along – scatter interesting books around the house with the covers showing to entice them to pick one up and peek inside. Choose great books with beautiful covers about subject matter they would likely enjoy, but don’t force it at all.
That books are wonderful, engaging, informational, and fun
is something that is discovered, not taught
📚 Keep going even when they learn to read (and even when they begin sustained silent reading). Children who read in grade school still understand verbal language a few years or levels ahead of where they are reading, so listening to quality audiobooks or a parent reading to them exposes them to smarter concepts, more challenging storylines, and more interesting ideas that they are mentally ready for, even if they aren’t able to read at that reading level or lexile score yet. Children also learn new vocabulary while reading, but not necessarily how to pronounce the words (especially words taken from Latin or French) so hearing them spoken sort of connects the written word in their mind with audio, and when they start to use these new words, they will pronounce them correctly. When it’s your child’s turn to read, definitely provide them with easier text so they don’t struggle or feel embarrassed, because the goal is not to teach them to read difficult text. We want them to love reading and to nurture a connectedness in the family of everyone loving books and novels and other forms of written language.
📚 Use quality language every day when speaking to your children. We tend to speak at a level that is equivalent to third grade reading level, and this is fine when we simply want to communicate an idea or something that is on our mind. When we speak with co-workers or neighbors or random folks, it’s actually ideal because it’s considered the level most people understand well. Because we aspire to even higher levels for our children, when we speak to them we should try not to speak down at all. Use appropriate words even if they may not know it yet so they become familiar with it (and hopefully as for a definition) and incorporate it into their own future vocabulary. Word Genius teaches a new word each day so I signed up for their emails to learn the new word of the day and try to use it (but not force it on my children).
📚 Reread favorite books. This is a great tip, because when we first read a book, we are sort of first being introduced to the characters, plot, world inside the covers. Once we know how a story ends, and reread it, we no longer read with curiosity and suspense. Instead, we read more deeply and notice things we didn’t really pay much attention to the first time around. We are able to tie things together now that we know how the story evolves. Maybe we were exposed to something outside the book that connects to it, and understood the real-life experience better, or something happened in our lives that makes us understand something in the book better upon a reread. Words we didn’t understand the first time are now coming around a second time, so maybe we understand it’s meaning this time (or look it up). Basically, just like watching a favorite movie so much that we memorize all the lines and still find ourselves seeing something each time, each time we read a book again, we experience it anew while deepening what we learned from it during each previous pass. Buy your children’s favorite books and fill their home library with it ♥︎
📚 When life is busy, or your children are in their room or away at camp, or if you happen to just not be a great read aloud reader (for whatever reason), incorporate audiobooks as a perfectly acceptable substitute. Children receive all the benefits, and if you listen with them (we love to listen in the car- currently listening to “Bud, Not Buddy“) you are still spending time together and journeying through the tale together as though you were reading it to them. Audiobooks are available from the library for free, on CDs at local branches, or digitally from library apps on smart phones and gadgets. This can even expand their ability to listen because narrators’ are varied and speak with different accents and voice modulations, and everyone in the family can just focus on listening to a great story without worrying about their own pronunciation or mixing up words.
📚 Try to set a time to read aloud (ie 30 minutes before bed, Saturday mornings, etc) so it becomes habit and something that everyone looks forward to coming. If it’s sort of stuffed in when ever there is free time, instead of scheduled as something that is valued and has priority, it will quickly become an obsolete activity
Find more information on the extraordinary benefits of reading aloud with children here. Feel free to let me know how your experience with reading aloud on social and email; I would love to hear about it!