When 7-year-old Ty started reading on her own, her parents were delighted that now they wouldn’t have to worry about reading aloud to her anymore. More importantly, she could now choose books or reading material based on her choices. Many of us think along similar lines and our fingers itch to strike out the reading aloud bit from our daily “to-do” list. But if we delve a little deeper, there’s more emotional investment and substantial gains along with academic benefits in reading aloud or “sharing words” with older children than we actually see. If we take a leaf out of the Read-Aloud Handbook, a classic guide on reading aloud to children penned by renowned American journalist and author Jim Trelease, we see that he emphasizes on the fact that reading aloud to children can help them understand and grasp the meaning or messages dished out in books that are too difficult for them to decipher or understand on their own. Trelease bolstered his claim by referring to a study conducted by eminent scientist Dr. Thomas G. Sticht who taught at Harvard University and further explained that reading aloud to older kids up to the age of 14 years helps in their cognitive development. He added that a child’s reading level does not match up to his listening skills until he/she reaches the 8th grade as one needs to hear the words before speaking it, and one needs to speak it before reading it, and reading at this level occurs through a child’s ear (i.e., listening). Trelease opines that parents should read aloud books meant for children in the 7th grade to 5th graders as kids love listening to stories with a sophisticated plot than the ones in books they select to read on their own. This advantage is coupled with the advantage of cementing the parent child bond in a high value and fun activity. Trying to gain deeper understanding of reading aloud to children who have already mastered reading we want to focus on the following points:
- Enhanced Vocabulary & Sophisticated Language Patterns: As mentioned children hear better than they read, i.e., their auditory comprehension is far better than their reading comprehension skills. Reading aloud to older children introduces them to newer and more complex, rich, and rare words and narratives not used in everyday conversations. It acts as a powerful medium as it builds their vocabulary or storehouse of words, and teaches them to use grammatically correct sentences and/or phrases while speaking and writing as the words have contextual cues. Hence it stimulates the vocabulary and can be easily understood and absorbed. Kids grow up to be effective communicators as they learn how to recognize the rich vocabulary as well as its correct usage and enunciation.
- Facilitates Meaningful Conversations: A good book or story can serve as a conversation starter or provide the grounds for an open discussion about socially relevant issues such as bullying, friendship, bravery, courage, kindness, and showing compassion to others. As we usually do not talk about these issues in our daily interactions, fostering a conversation and dwelling on these subjects, and how they impact our lives could be much easier in the form of a story. Older children can understand the layers of a complicated story, appreciate storylines and the narrative, as well as recognize and identify the larger aspects, lessons, and the message related to the big picture.
- Imparts Moral & Heroic Values: When it comes to older children, particularly teens and tweens, the challenge that stares us in the face is how to share with them values wiout sounding preachy or ranting into a monotonous speech that shuts out the doors of future communication. An engaging storyline makes children a part of the story, enhances learning, and engages them in the actions of the characters and the consequences, thus paving the way for discussions on topical yet sensitive and complex matters, ideas, feelings, and social issues.
- Builds Awareness & Empathy: Reading aloud enables children to experience the joy of a story as well as travel through the plots and sub-plots with ease and participate in the challenges faced by the characters and their conflicts. During the “wonder years”, older children, especially tweens and teens are rebellious and feel that they do not fit in or belong anywhere. They feel that they are different from others. But a well-written story can bridge the gap between their perceptions of people and circumstances and reality. Reading aloud can bring a parent and child closer to each other, help each one to understand the other’s perspective, and gain a deeper and clearer image of the world and its ways.
- Models Fluent Reading: When a parent reads aloud to a child, he/she observes and listens with utmost interest. A parent’s voice and intonation, and subtle nuances (such as pausing at commas or reading questions and exclamations) capture their attention. This leads to better attention span, listening skills, and reading abilities.
This is all well demonstrated by a study done by Murdoch University in Australia on children aged between 8 and 11 years old found that cessation or infrequency of interactive reading at home, increased their anxiety in school as the kids lacked the opportunity for growth in terms of confidence and skill. Moreover, the children who participated in the study said that apart from the invaluable time spent with their parents and the emotional and social aspects involved in the activity of reading aloud, they also enjoyed learning and extending their vocabulary, developed better pronunciation skills, and felt confident when told to read aloud in the classroom. Reading aloud to older children, particularly bedtime stories can be associated with rest and relaxation. As it is a stress buster, it is a win-win situation for both you and your child. There are never any “good” reasons or excuses to not pick up a good book or read out a story to your munchkin. So go ahead and relive your wonder years.