Read Out Loud

Read Out Loud

Reading out lout is one of the most important things you can do with your children. For decades, television has been the most prominent feature of almost every single home in this country, as evidenced by its placement in the most prominent room (as well as, sometimes, other rooms), the furniture being carefully arranged around it as its center.

It’s certainly easier to put your kids in front of a screen instead of taking the time to read them a book. However, as you can imagine, the (seemingly) easy road is not necessarily the one you need to travel on.

I remember my parents reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis to my sister and me when we were young. Our father had built a little bench with our names on it, and either he or my mother would sit in the middle, with us kids to the left and to the right. This is how we explored the Kingdom of Narnia every night, just before prayers and bed.

This personal experience (there would be a ton of other books to mention, of course) is not my own sentimental reason to advocate for reading aloud to your own children. Rather, there are objective benefits you can reap if you just invest time. Here’s a list of the top five reasons to read out loud to your kids.

1. Start soon to cultivate an interest and a habit

You should start reading to your children early on. Of course, the idea is to start with simple books that are mostly pictures. Make sure that the illustrations are not too abstract, or even downright ugly (yes, those books exist, and people buy them). Slowly but surely, work your way up to more demanding writings. Keep challenging your children, but use your common sense: You can read Robinson Crusoe to a seven-year-old, but Melville’s “Moby Dick” should wait a few more years.

2. Nourish the imagination of your child

Television destroys the imagination of your child. The whole story (if there is one that deserves the name) is presented to your eyes, no effort necessary on your part. Books are different. Yes, part of the story is contained in the pages of the book, but a lot of it unfolds in the imagination. Your kids will experience situations and events beyond their personal experience. Their imagination uses personal experience to create a whole new world. Having a vivid imagination helps your children to be more creative and innovative. Not everyone is going to be a writer, not everyone is going to be an artist, where creativity is always important, but innovation is also indispensable for engineers, scientists, and many other fields of work.

3. Expand your kids’ vocabulary

Reading to your kids will build and expand their vocabulary. This should be an obvious point to parents: Written language often uses words that aren’t generally used in conversation. In fact, to speak in the same way we write would sound a little weird. Similarly, sentence structures on paper differ from those used whiled talking. Let’s be honest: Most conversations can’t be transcribed and put on paper without some serious editing. While a broader vocabulary helps your child to write better, it also helps in conversation, for instance by making distinctions that a limited vocabulary would not allow. Finally, being familiar with how a well-formulated sentence works is a great aid in expressing our thoughts with more precision.

4. Don’t be a teacher

Yes, you can and should talk to your kids about the situations the characters of a book find themselves in. However, don’t make reading time into school time. Don’t always ask: “What did you learn from this?” Your children will pick up a lot of wisdom without you dissecting every single detail. Sometimes (most of the time, to be honest) they’ll bring up their own questions. This doesn’t have to be right then and there, but can be later, even on another day. Some things can be left unspoken, because they’re obvious. Others you should point out. Always be careful, though: It’s not the time to teach a lesson, but to have a conversation about a book.

5. Keep reading, even when they’re older

Don’t stop reading aloud to your kids once they’re old enough to read by themselves. As Jim Trelease, author of “The Read-Aloud Handbook,” explains, your kids’ reading level is one thing, but their listening level has to be distinguished. “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.”

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