[Note: This post is part of a 31 day focus on read-aloud. To see the entire list, go here: 31 Days of Read-Aloud.]
Now that your kids are older and perhaps reading well on their own (and reading often, hopefully), you can stop doing read-aloud, right?
There are several reasons why your kids will still benefit from read-aloud, even if they’ve turned into little bookworms on their own.
For one, you can read them books that are just beyond their reading ability – but not beyond their comprehension. Kids can understand books that they would never pick up and read on their own. Reading more challenging material to your older kids helps them stretch their listening skills and vocabulary as well as increasing their general knowledge, which as I mentioned here, grows their overall smarts.
Also, your kids still benefit from the attention and focus you give them when you read together. As kids grow older, they get more independent – which is good and normal, but it’s too easy to live side-by-side in a household with older kids and teens rather than interacting a lot as you did when they were little.
Interruptions and Questions
One thing that some kids do at this stage is ask a million questions while you read. How you handle this is up to you. Your tolerance level, as well as knowing your kid, will lead you to the right response.
You can sense when a child genuinely doesn’t understand what’s going on without a brief explanation of context or a recap. (In fact, I often make it a practice to summarize the last reading before beginning a new chapter of a longer read-aloud.) If this is the case, definitely catch the child up to speed before they get too far behind. With vocabulary words the child doesn’t know, you may want to briefly define those before you begin the reading.
Sometimes, however, a child does this for attention or to be annoying, or because they aren’t paying attention to the story. If you’re reading to a crowd, it’s not fair for the flow of the story to constantly be interrupted because one kid is daydreaming. They can wait until an appropriate stopping point before asking a question. Rarely, I have asked a child to leave the room during read-aloud because they were only causing needless disruption and annoying the other listeners. A great way to teach consequences! This is how life works in the real world. If you’re annoyingly disruptive in a movie theater or other venue, you may be asked to leave.
When a child asks a genuine question, I will raise a finger in the air signaling “just one minute” to acknowledge their interruption… and they know I’ll answer their question at a pause in the story. It teaches them to wait a bit, and usually their question will be answered in the reading anyway. (And this ability to wait, in anticipation of what happens next in the story instead of jumping ahead in the book, is how we generally read books as adults. So it’s worth learning. Read-aloud stretches attention span, which is one of its benefits.)
What if your older kids need a little convincing?
Last winter, my family read aloud every night. At 7:30 (which is our family’s electronics cut-off time), we all gathered into the living room and read from a book together. Our first book was The Giver, then A Wrinkle in Time. Then we did Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. It was a really nice tradition that we enjoyed, and one we’ll likely reinstate when the weather gets cold and it’s dark out early.
If your older kids or teens aren’t keen on the idea of read-aloud, thinking it’s for little kids, then consider having them choose the book. You may even want t0 pick something where the adults are all idiots and the children are the heroes. Kids love this theme!
One example: King Matt the First. (And I dare you to read the backstory of the author, Janusz Korczak, without crying – and by all means, share that with your kids.) Or pick something a little edgy, such as a dystopian novel like The Giver (again – the kid is the hero surrounded by clueless adults).
Reward them with something fun like hot cocoa or homemade popcorn during read-aloud.
Mostly, you probably won’t have any trouble convincing an older kid because kids enjoy being read to. But if read-aloud is a totally new tradition for you, try to make it fun. Let the child do something with their hands while you read like build LEGO. Read while they wash the dishes. Read in the car – if you’re not driving, of course!
Jim Trelease addresses the topic of reading aloud to older kids and teens in a few of the chapters of The Read-Aloud Handbook, and he also has an entire book devoted to stories for teens!
If your kids are in public school, perhaps you could read passages from the classics that are required reading. They might appreciate the help with their homework.
(My 15 year old son still loves for me to read aloud his history lesson, or really any book he’s currently reading!)
Do you still read to your older kids or teenagers? What have your experiences been?
A few books I read aloud recently to my older kids and teenagers:
- Sticks and Stones – the story of 4 kids “kidnapped” by their snake-oil salesman dad, and learning that things aren’t always what they seem
- Julie of the Wolves – a favorite survivor story!
- Pride and Prejudice – I enjoyed this more than the listener did, but still elicited some good conversations.
Today I read to the younger ones: a chapter of Wayside School is Falling Down, one in the Sideways Stories from Wayside School series by Louis Sachar, author of Holes.
This chapter was about a boy who gets a tattoo of a potato on his leg. These books are funny and weird, and I loved them when I was a kid. They’re a bit subversive, which is something older kids enjoy.
Belinda in Paris – A young ballerina with massive feet loses her pointe shoes just before a performance in Paris. (I’m a sucker for any book set in France.)
I Lost My Dad! – A little boy on a shopping trip has the bewildering experience of losing his dad in the mall.