This week our focus is reading aloud. One of my favorite comments about reading aloud comes from CIRCE founder, Andrew Kern. At one point, he said that if we leave most six and seven year olds to their own devices and don't read aloud to them they become some of the stupidest people on the planet (he does not use that word lightly). If your reading is limited by "Pat and Cat sat on a mat" - it's true. Let's not allow that to be the fate of your precious ones!
This week we will cover the WHY, the WHAT, and the WHEN of reading aloud. We'll also talk about some resources to enhance your conversation about what you are reading.
Let's start with motivation - why we do it.
I don't intend to list the academic benefits of reading aloud (vocabulary, story ark, exposure to ideas, etc.). Instead, lets look at some less touted benefits of this practice.
First reading aloud encourages our children to become life long readers. Kids are born to imitate.
Below are two of my favorite "experts" on reading aloud.
Jim Trelease, The Read Aloud Handbook - We had this book in our house growing up and I was gifted a copy when my oldest was born. It is a great resource for choosing read aloud stories. This blog post covers some of the most important benefits he has found. One of his interesting points is that reading aloud is great "advertising" for books - it helps draw students into them.
Finally, reading aloud to your child is a commercial for reading. When you read aloud, you’re whetting a child’s appetite for reading. The truth is, what isn’t advertised in our culture gets no attention. And awareness has to come before desire.
One of my friends used to talk about "will before skill" (this is what makes toddlers tiring - they are constantly wanting to do it before they really can). Basically reading aloud creates that will so that they want to conquer the difficult task of reading on their own. For most of human history reading was a special skill of the few - it is tough - and certainly not something expected of a 5 or 6 year old in the past. Sometimes parents are afraid that if they keep reading aloud their child won't read on their own. What you read with your child should be more complicated than what they can read alone. We'll talk about the skill of reading next week. This idea of making reading enticing is also the point of this Read Aloud Revival post:
When you focus on nurturing your child’s love of stories first and foremost, you get a child who can read, and a child who loves to read. You may not get the first part on your timetable, but you’ll get it on your child’s unique timetable, and he’ll have an insatiable appetite for stories, as well, which is worth its weight in gold.
Speaking of Read Aloud Revival, Sarah Mackenzie provides a whole series of podcasts dedicated to encouraging you in your read aloud journey. She also has her own list of favorite read alouds. She is the go-to girl for all types of reading aloud questions, thoughts and suggestions.
The second reason to read aloud is that it is an EASY way to enrich your family culture.
Read Aloud Revival recently posted a great article that illustrates the point.
Reading together provides a shared experience and adventure without leaving your living room. You meet heroes, villains, aliens, animals and more in all types of situations and laugh, cry and enjoy them together. Movies can do this, but books allow a child to use their imagination as they picture the scene and the slower speed allows them time to process the story and think about what is happening. It is not just a two hour experience - it can be a week long adventure (or more).
One of my favorite outcomes of reading aloud in my family are the inside jokes that come from stories we have read. If someone is acting like Eugenia - we all know what that means. Plus, as we read about different female characters my boys get a glimpse into how girls think (very necessary since their sister is so much younger). I honestly get a better idea of the types of women they may some day marry (or at least fall for) as they talk about the heroines in stories. This extends to all characters as they discuss the good, the bad, the funny and sad. Which stories and characters do they like best? Why? It helps me understand more about what makes them tick.
As we read together and talk about the stories I get to peek into my child's thoughts without being heavy handed. There is a reason my kids know more about superheroes than your kids - because their dad listens to the history of the superheroes (CDs upon CDs worth) in their presence. Not my favorite choice but it does bind those boys together. Maybe the trivia will come in handy some day.
Caught Up In a Story is an interesting take on this idea. Sally Clarkson's daughter shares the impact of her mother's love of stories on her own development and life. Her idea of a storyformed life encourages me and provides me vision for my own children. Children who are challenged, inspired, instructed and shaped by what they hear.
Finally, reading aloud increases empathy.
My first introduction to this crucial role of stories was Robert Coles' work The Call of Stories - I read it in high school and have been obsessed with the ideas ever since. He teaches graduate medical students bed side practice and care through poetry and literature - showing that this practice never gets old. Now "science" is showing what the good Dr. Coles has been doing for years - reading good stories can increase empathy. By reading books that put you into the shoes of others, break our stereotypes, and make us face difficult situations, we grow as people. However, the study found that only literary fiction offered this type of growth. Most popular fiction does not delve into character and popular plots often reinforce our expectations, which doesn't challenge our thinking and help us to grow. Literary fiction takes you behind the scenes into the inner life of its characters and this is where the growth happens. Quite bluntly
It stands to reason that popular fiction does not expand the capacity to empathize.
So while it is fine for kids to enjoy Junie B Jones, Encyclopedia Brown and others on their own; I encourage you to choose read aloud stories that feature more complicated characters and plots. As we choose stories we need to be mindful of this. Although wrapped in a story, some ideas and concepts need to be saved for when children are older. I have read a few books too early and just stop reading them (or read them only to my oldest child). There are so many good choices that it's fine to stop in the middle of one that isn't a great fit and try something else.
So change the world by cuddling up and reading with your little ones and don't stop - EVER!