Inside: You’ve read to them since they were tiny. They’re now a book-loving independent reader. Is it time for you to stop reading aloud? Literacy experts say NO for one very important reason.
You’ve done everything right to raise a reader:
- You read to them when they were tiny: stacks of gnawed board books and piles and piles of well-thumbed picture books.
- Over and over and over again (until you wanted to stab yourself in the face with a fork).
- You read to them when they were little: as they smeared food all over the highchair; cuddled up in bed when they were sick; and even while they sat on the potty.
- They’d squat for hours as long as you kept turning those pages.
- You still read to them. Every. Single. Night.
- Even on evenings when you long to be on the sofa – feet up with wine, chocolate, and Netflix.
Together, you’ve had breakfast with the three bears, lunch with a very hungry caterpillar, and tea with a tiger. It’s been magical.
And now your child is an INDEPENDENT reader.
Your work is done, you think. It’s time to stop reading aloud to them. They’ll have more time for silent reading. Surely, that’s best?
I’m here to convince you otherwise, with help from education experts.
It feels like the right time to stop reading aloud
My sister-in-law mentioned she plans to stop reading to her 9-year-old daughter (my niece) soon.
Over my dead body.
I made myself tall, ready to launch into one of my tirades. But my mind went blank. I couldn’t think of a single reason why she SHOULD carry on.
Related: Tirades are my thing. Read about the one which started a potentially life-saving discussion about depression with my young son.
And she had two convincing reasons to stop:
- Her daughter LOVES reading
- And she can already read anything she wants to
But doubts niggled at the back of my mind. It’s NOT the right time.
A little background reading
My mother-in-law read to my sister-in-law and my husband every night. When they were 8 and 7, she told them the next book would be their last. They never forgot The Phantom Tollbooth, and it’s still one of my husband’s favourites.
I asked him how he felt when the bedtime stories stopped.
“It left a hole,” he said.
He’s a man of few words.
“When will you stop reading to Rowan (our 7-year-old)?” I asked.
“Only when HE asks me to,” he replied.
Which says more about how he felt than any hole ever could.
My sister-in-law remembers The Phantom Tollbooth just as fondly, yet she doesn’t feel the same way. And maybe my husband will change his mind once our son’s reading level means he can read whatever he likes, too.
But reading level and listening level are not the same thing
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, urges parents of “good” readers not only to consider what level they’re reading on but also the level they’re listening on.
Children can listen on a higher language level than they can read, so reading aloud makes complex ideas more accessible and exposes children to vocabulary and language patterns that are not part of everyday speech.
If the subject matter is okay, 4th graders will happily listen to stories aimed at 6th, 7th, 8th graders and beyond. Even if they’d struggle to read them.
Trelease notes it isn’t until around 8th grade (age 13 – 14) that reading and listening skills level out.
So, if we continue to read aloud books which are above our pre-teen’s reading level, the benefits are the same as reading to them when they were little.
Benefits of reading aloud
- Fosters a love of reading
- Children enjoy stories without the frustration of reading
- Builds listening and comprehension skills
- Makes complex ideas accessible
- Models fluent reading
- Expands vocabulary
- Builds grammar
- Teaches pronunciation of new words
- Except when we don’t know how to pronounce them either! (‘Amorphophallus paeoniifolius’, anyone?)
- Introduces authors, texts, and genres they might not choose themselves
- Develops imagination and creativity
- Promotes discussion and critical thinking
- Starts meaningful conversations
- Strengthens emotional bonds
And there’s a new and important one you can add to that list
Around the time many people stop reading aloud to their children they start expecting more from them as WRITERS.
Middle-graders must produce well-written essays, reports, and stories to succeed in school. And strong written communication skills are a prerequisite in this digital age.
If you ask pretty much anyone how to improve writing skills they’ll tell you to READ, READ, READ.
But is that enough? Apparently not.
Andrew Pudewa, Director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, notes that good readers don’t necessarily become good writers.
Here’s his definition of good writing:
Competence in composition should mean being able to communicate ideas in understandable, reliably correct, appropriately sophisticated language patterns.
One Myth and Two Truths: Nurturing Competent Communicators
Pudewa says we need regular exposure to this type of sophisticated writing to be able to store and then replicate it.
The important bit …
The BEST readers often read quickly and SKIP words, phrases and sometimes even whole passages which might otherwise slow them down.
Are you guilty of this?
If I come across a long passage about hills and valleys and sunlight dancing on the … My eyes sweep straight down the middle of the page.
And we don’t stop to look up every new word. Sometimes our brains don’t register that some words were ever even there.
Good readers often MISS OUT on the types of language needed to transform us into accomplished writers.
So what activity does Pudewa recommend instead? Yes, you guessed it …
LISTENING to well-written stories.
Real life success story
A librarian read to his daughter every single night from 4th grade until she left for college. Eight whole years! Straight after she graduated, Alice Ozma’s first book was published: The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared.
Good listeners become good writers.
Hopefully, this will convince my sister-in-law of the importance of reading aloud to her daughter. At least until SHE says it’s time to stop.
You’ve done everything right to raise a reader. Now it’s time to focus on doing everything right to raise a WRITER.
Read aloud. READ ALOUD. READ ALOUD.
I write about parenting problems and the picture books we used to solve them.
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Let’s raise HAPPY literate humans!
Do you still read aloud to your child(ren)? When are you planning to stop?