Reading aloud to our children has so many benefits. I believe that reading aloud to a child at bedtime is parenting 101. It’s one of those must-have duties of a parent that we cannot treat lightly.
My husband and I read to our boys every night before bed, without fail. We started reading when they were 4 and 6 months old. We also make time in our day for solo reading, and I make sure they see me reading regularly.
But there is one mistake that I see many parents make: they stop reading to a child after the child is capable of reading on his own. It’s great when children learn to read, and it is a very good, educational activity for them to read on their own. But there is nothing that can replace the value of a parent reading to his or her child.
There is one primary reason why we need to read to our children throughout childhood. When we read to them, we can read at a level that is far beyond their own reading level. When a young, early reader is reading to himself, he is limited to those basic reading books. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen enriching literature that has two or three words to a page!
We want to expose them to literature that will expose them to rich vocabulary, complex sentence structure, and varying themes from quality books. As soon as your child will sit through a few pages without pictures to entertain him, start reading chapter books. You can start on simple chapter books like the Magic Treehouse series, but don’t get stuck on them. Always gradually increase the difficulty of the books you read, and don’t be afraid to read the classics. Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Caroll is one of William’s favorite books.
Also, when you have a child who can read, make sure he is reading along with you. When I read to William, I lie next to him in his bed and hold the book in a way that enables him to read along with me. If he gets distracted, I’ll get his attention and point out where I am on the page.
The reason for doing so is to make sure they are seeing the words they hear. When exposed to new vocabulary words, it’s always helpful for a child to see what the word looks like as well as hear what it sounds like.
In a recent post on my blog, I describe a scenario where I learned the benefit of reading along. In a high school English class, I was reading along with a classmate who was reading aloud and learned the pronunciation of the word “façade.” Because I was reading along, I saw the word and heard him correctly pronounce it. Having read the book to myself at home, I never would have guessed that the word is pronounced as it is. Nor did I stop to look it up or ask a parent how it was pronounced.
When I’m reading aloud to William and have him read over my shoulder, he will hear a word that isn’t pronounced as it sounds. The word “awry” comes to mind. If he were to read this word on his own, it’s unlikely he would pronounce it correctly or understand its meaning. If he sees me read it, he’ll stop me and ask my why it’s pronounced as it is.
This also helps his vocabulary development. If he hears someone speak the word “awry” he can imagine in his mind the way it is spelled. Then when he reads it in the book, he can recognize it for the word it is. If he were reading this word on his own without the benefit of me reading it aloud, he would likely skip over it and not make the connection when he hears the word used in speech.
In a general sense, I see the benefits of all of this reading. Now 8 years old and in second grade, William is a fairly advanced reader and writer. We are homeschooling, and he is capable of reading his adult-level history book on his own and comprehend it well enough to answer the questions on each chapter. And although I’ll allow him to read some school books on his own, I make sure to read aloud to him all day long.
And if I do say so myself, his spelling is amazing. I believe all of the reading we are doing has trained him to have a photographic memory when it comes to letters and words. (Numbers are a different story.) His spelling words are several grade levels ahead. A few of his spelling words this year include “disappear,” “precious,” and “delightfully.” He was able to spell each word by taking a mental picture of it and studying it for just a few minutes.
I also see that my boys choose to read just as much as they choose any other entertainment activity. We have books everywhere, in their rooms, on the kitchen table, in the car. Books have a very prominent place in our home. I believe it is only because of our consistent reading aloud that my boys enjoy books and are able to see the true literary value that books hold.
Maureen Monfore is the author of the blog ChildwiseChat.com and the e-book Live in Harmony with First-Time Obedience, How to Use Love, Authority and Consistency to Teach Your Child to Obey the First Time, Every Time. Maureen has two boys, ages 5 and 8. A firm believer in Babywise, Maureen recognizes the value of obedience and heart training in our children. She relies on the teachings of Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo to show her the way.