There are so many good reasons to read aloud to little kids. I’m not even going to bother going into them here. If you’re even looking at this site, chances are you read to your kids before bedtime for years and you know what a great experience it is for both parents and kids.
But then they get old enough to read on their own. Homework and late-in-the-day lessons or practices lead to hectic bedtimes. The ritual of reading aloud each night starts to slip and eventually fades.
Aside from nostalgia for those early years, why should you try to find time to read with your older and independent readers?
It’s a great way to share your favorite books with them.
Your enthusiasm will carry over as you read and they will be much more likely to enjoy the books you loved. This is all the more critical if you think there’s any chance these books will get assigned to them later in school—nothing ruins a child’s enjoyment of a book like being forced to read it at a time when it doesn’t appeal for whatever reason. If you want your kid to love a particular book, choose the time and share the experience.
Also, you’d be surprised what slipped by you when you were a kid—you might be really glad that you can discuss some of the issues that come up, or that you can change some wording on the sly. A few years ago, I remember changing “aspirin” to “medicine” or skipping off-hand sexist lines in otherwise fine stories. Now I tend to read them as-is and discuss my concerns with the kids. Reading time often blends into talking about Big Stuff time.
Times change, and sometimes it helps when you can explain what a pay phone is or what a certain phrase means. Remember that your favorite books are decades older now, and were often decades old then. Your kids may have no context for stuff that made perfect sense to you back in the day.
It allows your children to experience books that are slightly beyond their level.
Usually kids can handle stories well above their reading levels. This isn’t just true of kids who struggle with reading. Bright and imaginative kids can handle some pretty complex stories, but some of the really good stories are challenging to read because of vocabulary, sentence structure, and story structure.
I’m in no way suggesting that kids can’t or shouldn’t rise to that challenge, but not all reading needs to be work, either. If you want your kids to love stories, make the experience fun. And in some cases, reading aloud is a great way to do that. My son wouldn’t have made it through The Hobbit on his own at age 6, but his dad read it to him and he loved it.
In many cases, once we’ve read a story together, the kids go back and read it on their own. Even though it’s a challenge, they know what’s going on and they know it’s worth the work.
Also, books that would be a little too terrifying or intense if read alone before bed don’t seem nearly so daunting if you read them together with your parents.
It gives you a shared experience.
There are so many things that my kids talk about that I just don’t get. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to name the evolutions of various Pokémon. But when we read together, we share worlds. Those stories enter our conversations like friends we have in common. The funny ones come up time and time again. The travails of Harry Potter lead to allegories of how they can handle their own issues with friends at school. Sharing these fictional worlds improves our communication in this one.
Sharing things is funnier.
Some people laugh big huge belly laughs when reading to themselves, but most of us don’t. We smirk, maybe giggle, and we move on.
When I read aloud something funny to the kids, they laugh. Sometimes really hard. Many times, I’ve had to put down the book because we’re all laughing so hard that tears are rolling down our faces. It’s the same principle as the laugh track on a sitcom or why you see comedies in the movie theatre. Shared humor is just so much more amusing.
Plus, if they miss a joke, all I have to do is pause meaningfully and it sinks in. My tone helps them catch humor they might have skimmed over on their own.
I know that in these very busy times, it’s hard to find time to read aloud with kids who are zipping through 300 page novels on their own. Sometimes it takes me weeks to get through a 200 page book with my kids. But the shared experience has been worth the time we manage to find.
If you’re interested in reading aloud with your kids, check the Read Alouds category on this site. Some of the books are a bit dated, some cover complex concepts, some have clever word play that trips off the tongue, some are just better if shared.