You came home from work, made dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and now it is time to get your child to bed. If you are the parent of a child who is at least eight years old, you might just say, “Good Night!” The last thing you want to do is begin reading a book to your elementary-aged child. After all, he needs to know how to read for himself, right? Actually, a child in the intermediate grades needs you to read aloud more than you could imagine. Reading aloud to a child is not just a bedtime ritual; it is one of the best ways to ensure that a child will want to read independently. Here are five reasons to continue to read aloud to your child for as long as possible:
- Vocabulary knowledge – Conversations usually do not include academic language. The types of words used in books are not necessarily the words that a child will hear in spoken language. If your child is only able to read simplistic books, he will miss out on building the rich vocabulary required to succeed in school. Try chapter books that you think he may like but cannot read for himself. Typically, your child is given leveled books in school based on his present reading ability. By reading aloud to your child a book that is beyond what he can handle on his own, you will enrich his vocabulary while he develops his reading skills.
- Background knowledge – A child will be able to comprehend much more of what he reads if he has a broad base of information about the world. By reading aloud to your child, you give him vicarious experiences that will help him understand content across the curriculum. When we learn different subjects in school, we try to store what we learn in memory. We attach meaning to concepts we have heard before. This information can be filed away in our “mental file cabinets” if we already have a place to put it. Essentially, the read-aloud is your child’s first level of exposure to understanding multiple topics. Science and social studies will make much more sense if your child has a foundation of knowledge and academic vocabulary. Frequently, “comprehension” difficulties are really just lack of core knowledge about a subject.
- Fluency – By modeling fluent reading, your child will begin to see that it is important to pay attention to punctuation. When a child is learning to read, it is difficult for him to decode the words AND pay attention to meaning at the same time. Have you noticed your child reading choppily, speeding up at different moments when the words come easily but slowing down when the words are challenging? This is especially true with a struggling older reader. As text becomes more difficult, your child may try to juggle too many issues at the same time. Working memory may become overloaded and fluency will suffer. If you struggle to read and feel you cannot model fluent reading, try to get audiobooks and listen to the stories together. Ask questions and have a discussion about some of the salient points.
- Reading is a priority – Children take cues from the people closest to them. If you continue to read aloud to your child, you send a message loud and clear that reading is important. Just telling your child to read sends the wrong message, one that might be interpreted simply as, “You are in school, not me. If you HAVE TO READ, then go and read.” It becomes yet another chore in the household and something that is not valued. By making time to read together, you demonstrate how important it is to you. Each time you share a book, you are showing your child you care about reading, and you care that he becomes a reader.
- Independence – Believe it or not, your child will become more equipped to make decisions about books and will choose to read for enjoyment more often than a child who did not get the benefit of read-alouds. Your child will become confident about picking up lengthy books and develop the endurance to stick with them. If he only reads short, easy-to-read books, he may become intimidated and not try to read more meaty books. Your daily sessions will show that it may take time to complete a denser book, but it is certainly worth it. Television shows and movies supply instant gratification while a book is meant to be visualized and taken in at a different pace.
When you read aloud to your child, you are building habits that last a lifetime.
Faith Borkowsky, Founder and Lead Educational Consultant of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, is a Certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner, is Orton-Gillingham trained, and has extensive training and experience in a number of other research-based, peer-reviewed programs that have produced positive gains for students with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, and a host of learning difficulties. Her book, Reading Intervention Behind School Walls: Why Your Child Continues to Struggle, is available on Amazon. See information on her book and an interview with Ms. Borkowsky at https://highfiveliteracy.com/book/