Thursday, March 27, 2014

8 Reasons To Read Aloud To Your Children {Even When They Are Old Enough To Read Themselves}

Reading aloud to your children may be one of the most impactful actions you can take, as parents. You can shape your children's character, influence their choices, and strengthen their minds just through the power of story. 

Uncle and Cousins to my three in the photo (Drew, Madeline and Alexa)
Reading aloud is becoming more and more a treasured time for our family. The children grab their blankets and snuggle in for listening and then beg for "one more chapter!" When we pick up a good book, we know it. The children's imaginations are captivated and I often think, "how clever" that a lesson is being taught through a character my children can identify with. Countless times, I've had to pause, catch my breath and resume again, from the emotion caught in my throat. We experience new worlds, difficulties, emotion, triumph and laughter together. The benefits are measureless.  

Here are just 8 reasons to start reading aloud to your children today: 

1. It Anchors You As a Family

These are the times of day when we curl up under a blanket and snuggle in to listen to the story. We look forward to them. We're growing to expect them. 

2. It Stimulates the Imagination

My seven-year-old daughter coined it perfectly when she said this in the middle of one of our read-alouds:

"I like movies, but I like listening to books, too, because with movies they make the picture for you, but with books you get to create the picture yourself."

And that is a beauty of reading. This can occur when reading on one's own, however research shows that reading aloud stimulates the brain differently than when reading quietly.

As a seven-year-old, my daughter may be working hard just to fluently read. Yet when read to, the experience is completely imaginative and pleasant.
Characters seem more real when a story is read with some gift of expression. Maybe it is because a whole family is identifying with the characters and this strengthens the bonds one feels. –Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child's Heart

3. It Teaches About Life and Heroism

I can't say it enough, choose good books. Classics. Books that have stood the test of time and will grab the heart of your children, too. Read to your children stories with characters who portray courage in difficult situations so that they may identify with those choices when they are at a crossroads, when they need to make a difficult decision, or feel alone. Reading aloud gives your children the ability to identify with heroes and strive to exemplify that character.

Reading should offer the solace of hope and goodness, of another world where truth and right triumph. –Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child's Heart
4. It Shapes Character

Again, children's character can be shaped by experiencing the positive character traits of a protagonist and recognize unattractive character traits of an antagonist. 

We just finished reading The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame – a great all-around book for my youngest to my oldest. This fable was not only excellent for it's vocabulary and its fanciful descriptions, but the characters exemplified true friendship: putting another before oneself and looking out for the best interest of a friend. I was so pleased that the characters could show this to my children rather than me simply drilling it into their head – much more effective.

Good literature  teaches more than we know. Example always speaks louder than precept and books can do more to inspire honor and tenacity of purpose than all the chiding and exhortations in the world. –Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child's Heart

Choose good books that exemplify good character traits.

5. It Builds Vocabulary

The more children are read to, the more words they hear and take into their vocabulary index. In addition, they hear it in the context of the story, which is so much more effective than reviewing vocabulary words and their definitions. One will stick. The other won't. 
Reading is the golden key to educational success. It is impossible to be a successful student apart from a mastery of the written word. Researchers are finding that children's vocabulary–the amount of exposure they have had to a wide variety of words–is possibly the greatest determining factor in their success in all subjects in school. –Sarah Clarkson, Read For the Heart
6. It Develops a Love for Reading.

When a child's world is opened up through reading, they will crave more. My oldest son read his first chapter book mid-way through Kindergarten because when I closed the book for the night, after reading aloud to him, he could not wait until the next night for more. So, he decided to try reading it himself. That is what a a good book will do, no matter who is doing the reading.

7. It Stimulates Family Discussion.

Books are a great preface to meaningful discussions. How did the character change throughout the story? How about that hard decision? What would you have done? Were you surprised by the courage he showed? The potential for discussion is great. 

8. It Enables Listening to Higher Reading Levels.

So why should a child be read to after he can read himself? According to Great Schools dot org, reading levels do not catch up to understanding until eighth grade. Your 3rd grader may be able to read 3rd or 4th grade levels, but can listen to and understand 5th and 6th grade reading levels. 

If you are not in the habit of reading aloud to your children, no matter the age, I would encourage you to open a book that you remember as a child and bring it to life again. Begin reading just one chapter a day or night. For younger children, find a Treasury with beautiful illustrations. If the obstacles are what's coming to mind right now, the following are some tips for how to get started:

Tips for Reading When Your Child is Young (and Non-attentive):

*Let them doodle. Some children have a harder time sitting still. For those preschoolers and fidgety children, have paper and crayons or small toys and let them doodle or play while they listen. The only rule is that they need to do so quietly. Ask them about the story at various points and you may be surprised that they know exactly what is going on.

*Have the child engage in story by predicting what will happen next. 

*Stop and talk about pictures and give them time to peruse.

Tips for Reading When Your Child is a Bit Older (and Uninterested):

Unfortunately, it is harder to start something that is unfamiliar, if it's not something you've always done. However, here are some ways to start implementing reading aloud as a family. 

*Choose a compelling book that sparks interest. 

*Start small. Make it part of a bedtime routine or read a chapter around the meal table, where you have a captive audience.

* Make it a special time, with hot cocoa or cookies and milk and sit close together wrapped in a blanket by the fire. Your children will appreciate that time with you.

*Eliminate competitors. Shut off the technology. Your children will benefit for it.

*Don't ask. Say, "This is what we are doing." And make it inviting.

*Start reading. When camping this past summer, we were around camp after plenty of playtime and it was feeling like downtime. So, I pulled out the book we had been reading and announced, "Who wants to listen?" (Don't ask!) "Nooo," were the lathargic responses. So I just planted myself in the camp chair and started reading – loud enough that everyone could hear me – and within seconds they each wandered over, hovering over my chair. 

Where to Find Time:

*Again, start small and enjoy the experience together. 

*Utilize Audio Books. Audio books are another means to stimulating those imaginations. Our children devour them, particularly at night and when traveling is a good time. I still recommend reading aloud with your children, just for the treasured experience, but audios are great coupled with reading aloud!

*Don't fill up every minute of your child's spare time. It's tempting with all the organized activities available out there. But give your children the gift of down time and time as a family, too.

Tips for Finding a Good Book:

*Choose original or unabridged books, when possible.
A loss of words put together in the right way cheats the reader. –Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child's Heart
 *Choose books with profound morality. 
Moral excellence ought to be inseparable from creative or literary excellence. –Sarah Clarkson, Read for the Heart

*Choose Classics 
I like reading aloud books from the classic book list because their excellent use of language is showcased. –Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child's Heart
Start when they're young – start today – and give your children an appreciation for reading – and then don't stop. It will become a treasured time for you and your children that they will remember long after they've started the tradition with their own families.

Resources for Book Lists

Honey For a Child's Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life, By Gladys Hunt

Read For the Heart: Whole Books For Wholehearted Families, By Sarah Carkson (I'm not as familiar with this website, but it looked like a good, extensive list.) (Sarah Clarkson)

Also, watch for The Storyformed Life, By Sarah Clarkson, coming soon!

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
― Charles William Eliot

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