“My child can read, why should I (or anyone else) be reading to them anymore?” This question belies a common assumption among parents; namely, that the moment a child can read independently, they are responsible for their own literary input.
But think for a moment of reading being like eating; an analogy I like to make frequently. My three- and five-year-olds are able to get their own food in a pinch; but it’s processed stuff like pop tarts, pretzels, popcorn and maybe sometimes an apple. If left to their own devices, they would eat almost nothing but junk food. When I’m cooking for them, they are willing to eat more sophisticated fare—but I have to provide it for them.
While my seven- and eight-year-olds are able to read much more independently, their reading level is right about at their age level. At night, we’re reading books far above that. They read graphic novels themselves, but together as a family we’ve worked our way through all of Roald Dahl, the Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, The Chronicles of Narnia, and classics like Charlotte’s Web and Peter Pan. We’re currently halfway through the Series of Unfortunate Events, and next, we’ll move onto the classics of Mark Twain.
Thanks to the new Heroes of Liberty book, my kids are already familiar with Twain’s story, and soon, they’ll be familiar with his actual stories. They’ll get to know the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
None of these books are anywhere close to their reading level, but because I’m reading to them, they’re emotionally attached to figures like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne Shirley and Ernest Shackleton. They aren’t just emotionally attached; they are absorbing moral and life lessons from these stories, going to sleep with their words as the last thing they’ve heard before their heads hit the pillow.
There’s no such thing as “too old” when it comes to reading out loud to kids who still live at home. Yes, you can read aloud even with teenagers. One of my favorite parenting resources, Read Aloud Revival, is passionate about the possibility and the importance of reading out loud with teens. In one episode, Sarah Mackenzie, founder of the Read Aloud Revival podcast, tackled “the lowdown on reading out loud with teens,” saying: “Reading is still primarily about connection when we’re reading with our teens. The number one benefit from reading aloud is connection. Never forget that.”
And you don’t have to just read novels, as we do, at bedtime (or read aloud time, whenever that may be). In another Read Aloud Revival episode, Sarah talked to another mother about reading picture books (like Heroes of Liberty!) out loud, even with older kids. She explained “when you read picture books with your kids, you can cover a lot of ground and read many more stories than you can when you stick to only longer-form stories. The best part? “When you read a picture book every day with your kids, you have the opportunity to have great, meaningful discussions with your kids about the topics you encounter in all of those stories.”
That connection, and those discussions, are the most important things we can do as parents. We hope you’ll make reading out loud a regular habit in your household to grow that connection.
This is Part 1 of a 5-part series on reading aloud to children, by Heroes of Liberty Editor Bethany Mandel. Read Part 2 now.
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