Read to Your Bunniesand Your Rabbits Too!
Reading Aloud to Older Children
by Pamela Little
In her 1997 book Read to Your Bunny, Rosemary Wells (author of the beloved Max and Ruby series) simply but powerfully conveys the importance of reading to children for at least twenty minutes a day. While researchers have amply documented the importance of reading aloud to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, a growing body of research suggests that reading aloud to primary, intermediate, and middle-grade children is equally important. Unfortunately, many adults cut back on reading aloud to children, or stop altogether, once the children learn to read on their own. At what age should we stop reading to children? As long as the children allow it, keep reading to them. There is no such thing as an age when children are too old to be read to.
Why Read Aloud
Reading aloud to young and older readersbeginning and independent alikeallows them access to stories they canít read on their own or might not choose for themselves. It also demonstrates proficient reading and introduces new vocabulary and concepts. A storehouse of background knowledge and vocabulary words is critical for good comprehension. Every time you read a story, you make a deposit in childrenís comprehension bank accounts. Reading aloud also:
- helps children develop a positive attitude toward books
- stimulates their imagination
- sharpens their observation skills
- enhances their listening skills
- exposes them to a variety of writing styles and structures
- contributes to their problem-solving skills
Such academic benefits are well documented, but reading aloud to children also has psychological and emotional benefits. Reading aloud to children builds positive memories about reading. When adults devote time to reading aloud, they send the message that both the children and reading are important.
Reading aloud is especially important if a child is having difficulty learning to read. Some children find reading easy. Others, equally bright, find independent reading quite challenging at first, often because their brains are taking longer to reach the necessary level of maturation. In timeusually by the end of third gradethey catch up and do just fine. Until that happens, however, they may decide that reading simply is not for them because itís so difficult. If adults read to them, they're much more likely to stay open to the pleasures books can bring. They'll stick with the task of learning to read, work hard, and eventually gain the skills they need for independent reading.
Books also help teach character. Many educators and psychologists believe that books are one of the most important ways children learn about right and wrong. As they see how a character reacts in a given situationhow she treats her friends, for example, or what he does when he wants something that isn't hischildren get a clear picture of what constitutes admirable behavior and what does not. The messages books convey can thus be a compelling and enjoyable way to reinforce positive values.
What to Read Aloud
Perhaps the most important criterion for read-aloud books is to choose something that interests the children youíre reading to. Here are some additional suggestions:
- Always read any book before you share it, and choose books you will enjoy reading aloud. Your enthusiasm (or lack of it) will be contagious.
- Select stories that have an interesting story line, frequent dialogue, and some suspense or adventure.
- Choose books and stories that fit the childrenís emotional maturity and interests, rather than always going by reading level or length.
- Match the length of the story with the children's attention spans and listening skills. Begin with short selections, and increase story length gradually. Try using one or two short books per session in place of one longer story. Increase to longer texts by reading a chapter a day of a novel.
- Read excerpts of longer books to independent readers to whet their appetite, and then give them the full book to read on their own.
- If the book you've chosen to read aloud is not workingif the children seem bored or restlessstop reading, with a simple statement such as, "I see this is not the right book for us today." Move on to another book or activity. Everyone makes mistakes. Better to acknowledge your mistake than to spoil the read-aloud experience.
In order to select good read-aloud books, read as many children's books as you can. When you find authors or illustrators you like, look for more of their books. The following resources will help you add to your list of favorites.
- The Read Aloud Registry offers a clearinghouse of quality childrenís books, organized by grade level, that make excellent read-alouds. The site was developed by Anne Letain, a teacher and librarian in Alberta, Canada.
- The Childrenís Book Committee at Bank Street College publishes Books to Read Aloud with Children of All Ages. Updated annually, this annotated bibliography offers a rich selection of classic and new fiction and nonfiction
- Educator, author, and bookstore owner Esmé Raji Codell hosts Planet Esmé, which offers a list of great read-alouds for children in grades 4-8.
To supplement your read-aloud program, you might want to purchase audiobooks (or borrow them from your local public library) and let a professional do the reading aloud. The actors featured in audiobooks demonstrate fluent reading, phrasing, intonation, and articulation more capably than most of us amateurs can manage.
When to Read Aloud
Many times can be read-aloud time. You might want to incorporate reading aloud into your programís literacy activities or projects. Alternatively, read-aloud time could regularly take place before homework time, before enrichment activities, or before children head home for the evening. Whatever time works best for your program and your children, try to make reading aloud an every-day affair.
Where to Read Aloud
Most people enjoy reading someplace comfortable such as on a sofa, in a large armchair, on a rug, or in bed. While few programs offer such amenities, you can create soft, comfortable reading spaces using beanbag chairs, rug remnants, and throw pillows. If weather permits, travel to a nearby park to read outdoors under a tree. If itís a rainy day, spread a blanket on the floor and have an indoor picnic. Be creative.
How to Read Aloud
Reading aloud to children can be a rewarding experience or an exercise in frustration. Planet Esmé offers some fabulous suggestions on how to read aloud. Also check out Jim Treleaseís doís and don'ts for reading to children.
Reading aloud does not magically stop at a particular age. Even as children grow older, they can explore whole new worlds in chapter books and young adult novels that will stimulate their imaginations just as much as picture books did when they were younger.