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You Never Outgrow Reading Together

February 3, 2012
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It is a thrilling moment when your child learns to read by herself. You revel at the adventures in store for her, and you watch with pride as she chooses her own books and dives in. The ability to read independently ushers in a new era for your child, but it need not herald the end of reading together. In many households, however, it does, no doubt for a variety of reasons. The end result is a lost opportunity. Reading with an older child offers great benefits, and while reading independently is definitely to be celebrated and encouraged, there is no reason that reading together should ever stop.

Reading with an older child allows you to read together books that your child is not yet able to read on his own. Books like The Secret Garden, The Jungle Book, Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Anne of Green Gables, Swiss Family Robinson, or Heidi may be above your child’s reading level, but they are thrilling reads. Children can understand books several years above their grade level, and hearing them read aloud helps build vocabulary and increase attention span. For some children, reading for sustained periods may be difficult, and sharing out-loud reading may let them just relax and enjoy a book without having to sound out words or stumble over unfamiliar meanings. As you read together, you have a chance to explain difficult words, to demonstrate looking up tough words in the dictionary, and to explain historical contexts. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a wonderful book, but even children who are old enough to read and understand the words may not understand the backdrop of pre-Revolutionary Puritan Massachusetts. Similarly, you can help a child navigate emotionally difficult scenes, such as in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Harry Potter. Or you can help explain a different style of narration, such as in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Reading together also presents a chance to expand the type of books your child reads. You can help take them beyond the kind of reading they may usually gravitate to. You can pick works of nonfiction, poetry, biography, or classics. (For example, there are some great children’s versions of The Odyssey and The Canterbury Tales). Reading as a family also provides an opportunity to read to children of different ages and all share the story. If your child loves a book you read together, he might go on to read another by the same author or in the series by himself, or you could even embark on a long series together—the Little House series, for example, is a fabulous adventure to share. Once your children have read a book with you, they might have an easier time navigating that book on their own.

Reading together also offers an unparalleled opportunity to develop your child’s reading comprehension and to lay the foundation for strong reading skills going forward. What better way to help a child understand foreshadowing than by highlighting a hint in the book? There are numerous chances to speculate about what is going to happen later, why characters act as they do, as well as moments to point out allusions your child may not have noticed.

Reading more complex books together also lets you talk about your values in the context of what is happening in the book. You can ask what your child thinks about a character’s choices or what they might have done differently. And you might be able to draw parallels to help your child understand events in his own life.

When you read together, you and your child gain more shared experiences, more topics of conversation and more mutual understanding. Both of you will find opportunities to discuss what you’ve read or to follow up on things you’re reading about—you might visit a museum with a relevant exhibit, make a meal that relates to what you’re reading, point out news stories on point, or even mention a scene from a book when you talk about a real-life situation.

If you are reading long chapter books together, you have many nights of the story to look forward to. And when you’re in an exciting part of a book, what better incentive for them to get ready for bed than “if you hurry, we can read an extra chapter!”

We teach our children what is important by how we choose to spend our time. If you invest time in reading together, you underscore the value—and joy—of reading. Reading together is a fun time, and sharing the unfolding of a long story means taking a mental journey together.

For more information about the benefits of reading with older children, see the following:

For suggestions of books to read, check out our Book Lists tab or ask your librarian. For elementary aged students, Amy Kaplan, the Children and Teens Librarian at the Briarcliff Manor Library suggests the following:
Roald Dahl books
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
A Cricket in Time Square by George Selden
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Castle Carona by Sharon Creech
The Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling
Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo
Dragonrider by Cornelia Funke

For additional preteen suggestions, check out Jim Trelease’s book Read All About It! Great Read-Aloud Stories, Poems, and Newspaper Pieces for Preteens and Teens or the following websites:

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 3, 2012 6:27 PM

    I know that when I have kids I will be reading with them.

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