By Fruma Taub, Off-Campus Program Advisor
Everyone knows it’s important to read aloud to young children, but reading aloud is good for children (and adults!) of all ages. Whether your child is an avid reader, still learning, or hasn’t yet developed a love of reading, there are many benefits of being read to. It is an activity that the whole family can do together, even with children of mixed ages.
Bringing the Family Together
While reading alone is of course wonderful and should be encouraged, it’s also a solitary activity. Reading aloud transforms it into a social, interactive experience because listening to a story uses a different part of the brain and engages different parts of the imagination than reading a text to yourself. A live read-aloud is also a very different experience than listening to an audiobook. A family reading together is both intimate and interactive: the reader can gauge listeners’ reactions and adjust the pace, repeat passages for emphasis, pause to ask questions, edit inappropriate content for more sensitive listeners, and create cliffhangers by deciding when to stop. Being read to not only gives kids a chance to practice patience and delayed gratification, but gives families a chance to bond together and create lasting memories.
Reading aloud is something you can do anywhere (as long as you remember to bring your book with you) and is not just for bedtime. My own family has taken books with us to parks, beaches, botanical gardens, and anywhere we expect we may have to sit still for a while. And it doesn’t always have to be the parent doing the reading; my kids have all grown up not only being read to, but also reading to each other.
Fostering a Lifelong Love of Reading
For children who struggle with reading or haven’t yet learned to enjoy it, being read to creates an opportunity to cultivate a love of narrative, which can later be a powerful motivator in helping them become readers themselves. And reading aloud doesn’t have to be limited to fiction–it’s also wonderful to share and discuss interesting articles from magazines or newspapers, entries in encyclopedias, and other non-fiction.
Reading aloud can also be very collaborative. In our home, we have read scenes from plays with each of us “performing” different characters, and have taken turns reading poems from an anthology. Sometimes it’s nice for parents to be able to sit back and enjoy being read to!
Suggestions for Your Read-Aloud List
All of my kids (and their parents) have fond memories of the family reading aloud together. When I told my kids that I was writing this article, they all came forward with examples of books I’ve read to them that stood out in their memories. Of course any good book is a candidate for reading aloud; in addition to classics like the Little House books, The Trumpet of the Swan, Little Women, The Secret Garden, and Winnie the Pooh, my children also named the following:
- The Narnia books by C.S. Lewis
- The Ingo series by Helen Dunmore
- Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater
- Tove Janssen’s Moomin series
- The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet and Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron
- The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede
- The Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmon Rushdie
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide books by Douglas Adams
- T.A. Barron’s Lost Years of Merlin series
- The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
- Ingrid Law’s Savvy trilogy
- Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris (and its sequels)
- Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game by Blue Balliett
- The Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Starlight Barking by Dodie Smith
- Stories from James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series
What are some of your favorite books to read aloud with your children? We would love to hear your recommendations.