The sky darkens and we begin to see ourselves reflected in the window. Three plates are empty but one—the youngest—is still at work, with his tiny bites and propensity to tell an entire story between each mouthful. I take a long drink of water then reach for the heavy book on a nearby shelf. The others around the table grow quiet. This is a sacred time, of sorts. This is reading time.
I have a fifteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old, both of whom read far above grade level. My husband, of course, can read anything he wants. Yet they all stay around the table while I voice the characters, pause for dramatic effect, and stop to ask questions. We read five or six pages, maybe ten if there’s no school tomorrow. Occasionally (especially in winter), we adjourn to the couch and snuggle under afghans for a long read. And some nights, we don’t read at all. (One day I’ll write a post about my love/hate relationship with Netflix.)
These days, we’re reading Lord of the Rings. We’ve been on Book 1 for months. Literally. But that’s okay. We’ll keep going when we can. My goal, if I must claim a goal, is to finish the trilogy before my oldest graduates from high school.
Why do I continue to read aloud to my almost-grown children? Here are six reasons.
Reading aloud nurtures a love of reading.
There have been scientific studies proving this fact, and my own experience shows it.
When my children were younger, I read books to them every day. While I modeled my own love of reading, they discovered the joy of an unfolding story, the undivided attention of their mother (or father), extended snuggle time, and the blessing of being served (re: The Five Love Languages for Children). They memorized their favorite books, “read” to their stuffed animals, talked about book characters, and jumped at a chance to go to the library. While we’re talking 5 Love Languages, a specially-chosen library book dramatically presented is a gift even though it must be returned.
2. Reading aloud increases the listener’s vocabulary.
When we read silently, it’s easy to skip unfamiliar words, but when we read aloud, those words stand like fences in our path. As listeners, our children learn how to pronounce unfamiliar words and how to use those words in context. We can even stop and discuss difficult words when our kids are too young to pick up on context clues.
3. Reading aloud fosters imagination and creativity.
- Creating mental worlds: When we no longer read picture books, our children must use their minds to create visuals for the story. Unlike television, video games, or movies, one child’s hero may not look like another’s, and that’s okay! If you want to push this skill, ask them to describe the setting in their minds.
- Acting out the stories: Children who love a story will find ways to enact the story in their play or extend the story in conversation. It’s the most natural kind of fan-fiction. (See my Just 18 Summers post, Hanging Out in the Bored Room for suggestions on prompts for this.)
- Writing, drawing, and building: What story-lover hasn’t felt inspired to write his own stories at some point? How many children have drawn pictures of their favorite scenes or built environments to resemble stories they have heard? My daughter has a beautiful set of drawings based on the Wings of Fire series.
4. Reading aloud brings pleasure to everyone involved.
If you’ve read or been read to by someone who loves it, you know this is true.
5. Reading aloud deepens our family identity.
We like to watch movies together, too, but reading offers more interaction. We’re engaged with each other rather than individually with a screen. Together, we’re sharing the experience of the book at a pace requiring patience. Almost magically, the story becomes part of who we are as a family, something we use to define ourselves as we talk about the values and decisions represented by the story.
6. Reading aloud provides touchpoints for real life situations.
This is one of the unexpected blessings of reading aloud to my older children. We talk about how characters handle situations and about the emotions they experience in these fictional events. Their character traits, actions, and emotions provide us with a verbal shorthand that applies to our real lives. For example, Samwise (LOTR), who can’t swim, runs into the water after Frodo, who is in a boat. That’s loyalty and sacrificial friendship. We reference this event to talk about real friendship.
How I choose books to read aloud:
- When they were younger, I’d read interesting books that were otherwise too hard for them to read on their own. We did several Newbery winners like this, including Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!. That one was fun, too.
- Laughing together strengthens our family bonds, so sometimes we chose something just because it’s funny. That’s why we read Diary of a 6th-grade Ninja.
- Some books have timely themes I know speak to one of my children’s present-day struggles or the greater issues of life. If I know the story will create relevant conversations, we’ll read it aloud. We read Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover by taking turns with the poems.
I hope you read to your children, whether they are two or twelve. If you don’t, this summer is a good time to start. Take a good book out on the deck or pick it up while everyone is still at the table and see what happens.
Here’s my inspiration for this post, a sweet compilation of parents’ reasons to read aloud to their kids: The Very Best Things About Reading Aloud with Kids, According to Parents.
Do you still read with your kids? What do/did you enjoy about it? What ideas do you have for making it more of a habit? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!