The Importance of Reading Aloud to Older Children
Contrary to popular belief, reading aloud to your children should not end after they learn to read.
According to Boston-based journalist and author Jim Trelease, reading aloud to older children—even up to age 14—has both academic and emotional benefits. While many parents and caregivers believe older children should be left on their own once they learn how to read fluently, and many older children demand independence from the daily routine of read-aloud sessions, Trelease argues that reading levels don’t catch up to children's listening levels until 8th grade, and that reading aloud to older children helps children’s language fluency, as well as comprehension, especially if they are following along with the book.
Trelease, who could be called the King of Read-Aloud, turned his passion for reading aloud to his own children into The Read-Aloud Handbook, which is used by educators and librarians as the go-to source for information on the subject.
Trelease argues that parents can and should be reading 7th grade books aloud to 5th graders because children enjoy listening to more complicated plots than they can read themselves. Parents also can use such books as an opportunity to open discussions about difficult social issues that children face as they move through school.
For instance, according to Trelease, parents might tell children not to hang out with certain kids—a lecture that is largely ignored. But if parents read a book about a child who gets in trouble by choosing the wrong friends, that is an opportunity for a discussion about wise choices. One excellent choice of a novel that opens the discussion for an increasingly common problem is Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, in which a high school freshman refuses to speak rather than reveal that she has been attacked by a classmate.
In addition to helping older readers with comprehension, read-aloud sessions help teach practical speaking skills. Melissa Taylor, in an article for www.readbrightly.com, writes that the reading parent or caregiver can model how to read by pausing at commas and periods, with voice inflection indicating questions or exclamations and with pauses to look up unfamiliar words, and how to use clues in the text to help the child figure out the meaning.
Taylor also believes reading aloud hooks kids into trying a new author or series of books and different genres or texts they wouldn’t normally choose on their own, a premise Trelease shares. On his website, www.trelease-on-reading.com, he has book lists, book reviews, excerpts from his read-aloud handbook and other information for parents. It's a good source of information.
When children and caregivers engage in read-aloud sessions well into middle school, their appreciation for reading is enhanced as they get older. The Synergy School, a private school in San Francisco, published a survey by Scholastic and YouGov that 62% of children aged 6-8 reported they “like a lot” and “love” reading for fun. That number drops to 46-49% for ages 9-17. Additionally, the study found that while 52% of younger children report reading for fun is extremely important, that number drops below 45% for older children who believe in the importance of pleasure reading. According to the Synergy article, reading aloud to older children brings alive the little child in them and counteracts what Trelease calls the “sweat mentality” around books because their school commitments reduce the time they have to read just for fun.
Children with reading difficulties benefit greatly from read-aloud sessions at home in a secure environment. In an interview with KQED News, Trelease emphasized the importance of what he calls “broadening the menu,” which shows students that not all reading is drill and skill, that the “good stuff—the really great books” are just ahead. A child with dyslexia can relax and just listen to a good book rather than struggle with it. Read-alouds make reading more fun.
Best of all, memories of books heard last a long time. Trelease said he once received a letter from a retired teacher who reconnected online with former students years after she stopped teaching. The students said the one thing they remembered was the books she read to them. When I was teaching, my favorite part of each day was the time I put aside to read aloud to my 5th and 6th graders. The best thing was students begging me: “please don't stop reading.”