Editor's note: This post was originally published March 6, 2013.
I’ve been a book lover since I was a kid. My father read to me every night when I was small and he and my mother, and my eight siblings, were avid readers themselves. We went to the library frequently with my mother, brought books home from school and had lots of magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and hand-me-down books in our house. We talked about what we read, a lot, and lived in what I would call “a reading house.”
Since my 2 boys (now 7 and 9) were born, my husband and I have been reading aloud to them every day. I still do, yes, even at ages 7 and 9 (almost 8 and 10) years old. I’m still reading aloud and I don’t have intentions of stopping any time soon. They love it. When I taught middle school and high school – I read aloud to my students too, as most teachers do– and they loved it.
Here are the wonderful gifts you give to your kids when you read aloud to them:
- The more you read aloud to your kids the more they will love reading. By reading aloud frequently you are showing them that reading is fun and thoroughly enjoyable! The love and enthusiasm you bring to reading gets passed along (be patient, it doesn’t always happen overnight). Be enthusiastic about what you’re reading and sharing with them. Talk about what you’re reading, get excited about what’s about to happen in the next chapter – predict what you think will happen together, talk about the characters you like and don’t. Discuss what you think about the news, article or story you’re reading with them. If you do this every day, they’ll start to do the same thing. They will. They’ll start to tell you about the book they’re reading, share funny quotes or talk about how much they love a particular character, series, plot line or joke from the book. They’ll tell you about information they read somewhere – and share their point of view on it. You’ll see references to the stories you’ve read together, or apart, in their own creative writing and in their drawings. It’s really wonderful!
- It builds their vocabularies. Many words in literature are not used in every day speech – so literature and a variety of texts (magazines, news articles, etc.) provide exposure to a rich and varied vocabulary that your kids might not get in day-to-day conversations. You’ll start to hear new words appearing in their conversations, and in their writing, words they picked up and learned from something they read – or you read to them.
- It develops background knowledge that they will need to understand the meaning of texts when they read on their own. If they’ve never heard of something before, it’s harder for them to understand it for the first time reading it on their own. Reading aloud and sharing lots of different stories and information with them gives them the knowledge they’ll need in the classroom – and in life - to read and understand on their own.
- It inspires a lifetime love of reading and is a great way to model making reading a part of their everyday lives. It sends the message: “This is what we choose to do, this is what we love to do with our time. I choose to read something every day. It’s fun, it’s interesting and I learn cool stuff when I do.”
- It’s one of the best ways to bond with your kids. Lots of laughter and conversation comes from reading together – and the relationship you build spending quality time together is a priceless gift to give.
What you read aloud can vary day to day. Mix it up – short, long, funny, factual – it’s all good.
- Novels and Chapter Books: Some read alouds go on for days and weeks because you may be reading a chapter a night of a longer novel or chapter book.
- Picture Books: Some days, you may want to share a favorite picture book – it’s short 10-15 minutes. I keep reading picture books even now – there are many that older elementary kids love and they are beautiful and inspiring to look at. Who could grow too old for that? Both of my boys love art, so sometimes I share a story with them and begin with, “Check out how wonderful/cool/interesting this artist is…” and remind them that picture books are great at any age. It’s a different way into reading each time.
- Poetry: A short poem in the morning at breakfast (or whenever you can fit it in!) is a great idea. I like to find poems that relate to the season or what’s happening in their daily life at the time – or just to be silly and have a few laughs before the day starts (or in the evening at dinner time). It was snowing in NYC and still a bit dark out when we got up for breakfast. The snow was falling so quietly and beautifully and I said, “Guys…I have the perfect poem for a morning like this. Can either of you guess what poem I’m thinking of?” Ben, my 9-year-old, instantly knew and said, “The one about the guy stopping in the woods in the snow…” and Luke, my 7-year-old, said, “By Robert Frost.” “Whoa! You guys are good! Yes, that’s the one I’m thinking of!” And I read, very quietly, in hushed tones to match the hushed and still illustrations in the book and the hush of the snow falling outside our still-dark morning window -- the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening while they munched on breakfast. The edition we have has gorgeous illustrations (see below), so we spent some time looking at each one and finding hidden animals in the forest drawings too.
- News and Non-Fiction: And of course news is great. Share a short article or piece of interesting information from the news or a magazine or a non-fiction book that you think is interesting and relevant. Talk about it with them. Ask them what they think about it – do they have an opinion about what was read? What questions does it raise for them? Share your thoughts too. We’ve gotten into debates on topics we’ve read about. Give your kids an opportunity to share why they think the way they do and encourage them to use specific facts to back it up!
- I’ll close with a few of my favorite read-alouds and read-aloud resources. So much more to come!
- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
- The Classic Winnie the Pooh Library: Winnie the Pooh, House at Pooh Corner and When We Were Very Young, Now We are Six – by A.A. Milne
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
- Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins and Paul Zelinsky
- Toy Dance Party by Emily Jenkins and Paul Zelinsky
- Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
- The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (I read the abridged version in the Classic Starts Series)
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (I read the abridged version in the Classic Starts Series)
- The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (I read the abridged version in the Classic Starts Series)
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Dafoe
- The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks
- Polkabats and Octopus Slacks by Calef Brown (silly and imaginative short stories)
- Runny Babbit by Shel Silver Stein (poems had us laughing out loud constantly – and then talking with the first letters of each word reversed –so much fun!)
- Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
- Falling Up by Shel Silverstein
- For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to Tickle Your Funnybone by Jack Pretlusky
- Read Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young by Jack Pretlusky and Marc Brown
Magazines, News and Non-Fiction (great for selecting a short article or factoid to read and talk about):
- National Geographic for Kids Magazine
- Ranger Rick Magazine(Formerly Big Backyard - a favorite of mine!)
- Time for Kids books
- Guinness Book of World Records
- Fast Facts About the United States Plus Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. by Lousie Rozett (wacky facts kids love)
- Slightly Odd United States of America by KLUTZ (fun and funny facts about the USA)
- National Geographic Weird But True: 1,000 Wild & Wacky Facts and Photos
- The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2012 by Sarah Janssen
- New York Times (all newspapers have some content that can be shared with kids –Sports, Weather, Local News, Science, The World, etc.)