Many of you have read, agreed with, and followed the research that says reading aloud to young children is extremely beneficial to their development as readers. But did you know that the benefits grow with your children, and even apply to tweens and teenagers? Statistically, only about 17% of children between the ages of 9-11 are still read to, while the number of children up to age 17 who expressed a love for being read to was 83%.
We first learn to love stories by hearing them. Reading aloud with your child (where you both take turns) is, of course, a wonderful and necessary way to supplement their literacy education, but so is simply letting them listen as you read.
Even when children get older, they are listening for clues and cues to how language works. Reading with expression is key to developing fluency in older readers. Model how to read commas, question marks and exclamation points. Change voices and tone to give your child more tools to make “mind movies,” with, a skill that will help them to be better independent readers. You’ll also have the opportunity to show them what you do when you come upon a word that you don’t know; it’s important that children understand that even highly skilled readers sometimes have to make inferences from contextual clues or use a dictionary to define unknown words.
In the same way you stretch your body to keep it limber, pausing to learn new words with your child stretches the language centers of their brains (and yours, too!). Researchers at the non-profit organization Reach Out and Read determined that “books contain many words, especially the more sophisticated words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently in spoken language. Children’s books contain 50% more rare words than prime-time television or even college students’ conversations.”
Choosing read-aloud books that are above your child’s reading level is great way to expose them to new authors, series, genres and texts. A child’s reading level doesn’t actually catch up to their learning level until around eighth grade, meaning that kids are able to understand books that are too hard for them to actually decode themselves. In today’s media heavy world, your child will likely be exposed to ideas and concepts they’ve never heard of before they’ve had the chance to read about them in the books they read independently. Therefore, the more you read aloud to them from challenging texts, the more tools you’ll be giving them to process all the new information they’re taking in on a daily basis. Having context for the world builds both awareness and empathy, and will help them to be more confident people and learners.
So now the question might be, “what do I pick to read?” My first suggestion is that you pick a book you loved as tween or teen and start there, because you yourself will be a wonderful and engaging reader of a beloved story. You can also try searching your favorite genre on your county library’s online site. You could look for something you’d both enjoy on a composite list of read-aloud books for older children – I recommend the one here: http://www.readaloudamerica.org/books_G68.htm.
Most importantly, enjoy the special time to slow down and tune in together – no matter your child’s age, they won’t forget the joy of the shared closeness and sense of belonging that’s created when you spend time reading aloud to them on a regular basis.