Last week my daughter and I were browsing at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore. I was surprised to see some classes of young students were visiting and that the store had set up several activity stations. At one, the children were taught the distinctions between fiction and nonfiction books, as well as other categories the store had used to group books together. At another, a very talented person was reading aloud and the children were truly enthralled. A third group was invited to select a book to take home.
I thought to myself that this was a very clever marketing plan, reaching out to schools, but also genuinely beneficial to the students. As we adults wove our way through the various departments, we continued to enjoy the read-aloud along with the students. The reader was very animated and very entertaining. I was reminded of how much I loved it when my parents or teachers read aloud to me, and also how I enjoyed reading to my children.
Reading aloud is a way to stretch children’s vocabulary and increase their interest in reading themselves. For example, adults can (and should) read to their children at a level beyond their children’s reading ability. We should not leave off when children learn to read but rather entice them with the more interesting books that await them as their skills improve. Jim Trelease, an author and advocate for reading aloud, points out that children often listen at a higher level than they read.
A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh grade books to fifth grade kids. They’ll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading. A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read herself, and reading aloud is really going to hook her, because when you get to chapter books, you’re getting into the real meat of print — there is really complicated, serious stuff going on that kids are ready to hear and understand, even if they can’t read at that level yet.
From the point of view of a Catholic parent, reading aloud is an excellent way of introducing topics that we want our children to understand in keeping with our family’s values and beliefs. As we read, we can pause and ask questions, or throw in a comment, depending on the material. We have the opportunity to introduce our children to beautiful books that they are unlikely to read at school. When I was homeschooling, I found the ability to interest my children in good books was one of the most rewarding experiences of that whole endeavor. It is also quite enjoyable to see younger children become interested in topics that were intended for older ones. It really does help them grow intellectually.
Finally, it is an intimate family activity that builds communion among all participants. Choosing a book with care and sharing it with one another builds a bond and beautiful memories. There are many lists online of recommended books and Catholic homeschool sites are a good place to get ideas too. Parents have a great opportunity to guide their children and develop in them a taste for quality literary work. This is how we create lifelong readers.