why you should read to your kids even when they can read for themselves

In honor of “I Love to Read” month, here’s a slightly condensed version of an article I wrote for our school newsletter. 

Most parents understand the benefits of reading to their preliterate children, but too often neglect this important pastime once their kids start reading for themselves. In The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease asserts that reading aloud helps increase a child’s attention span and improve his listening skills.

A child’s listening level tends to be higher than her reading level, which means that you can and should be reading fifth grade books to a child in third grade, for example. By doing so, the third grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read for herself, something she’s ready to hear and understand. Slightly above-level books tend to be motivating for kids – they want to see how the book ends and want to grow in their own reading skills in order to enjoy more complex material.

Reading aloud to kids is also a nonthreatening way to grapple with difficult issues, Trelease suggests. Through the story, your child can experience a certain kind of challenge – with you at his side – and there’ll be an opportunity for you to talk about it together. You can use the story you’re reading as a starting point for a conversation, asking questions such as, “Do you think the boy made the right choice?” and turn it into a coaching session, which will probably stick with your child much longer than a lecture would.

Besides, reading aloud is a great way to spend quality time with your kids. I find that the conversation about a book we’ve read may continue for days after we have read it. It becomes part of our family’s shared experience.

world read aloud day 2014

Wednesday March 5th is Word Read Aloud Day.

In an effort to raise awareness about “the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories,” LitWorld has designated the first Wednesday in March as World Read Aloud Day.

At this stage in my life, with one pre-reader and one very beginning reader in our home, nearly every day is read aloud day. Still, it’s interesting when we mix it up a little, and LitWorld has some suggestions for doing just that

But even if your kids can read for themselves, this is a great excuse to read aloud to them. Older readers benefit from frequent read alouds. They may also benefit from learning how blessed they are to have access to education and books. 

To whom will you read aloud on Wednesday?

first library card

In the summers, my siblings and I used to ride our bikes about five miles to the nearest bookmobile stop. On our first visit, we applied for library cards. That small piece of orange tag board with a tiny metal rectangle in it became the ticket to a world of learning and exploring through books. Early public library visits turned me into a life-long library patron.

And when I had kids, I started taking them along.

Today, our older son got his first library card. It has a picture drawn by a child and the word “imagine” on it. He used it to check out three books.

What do you remember about your first library card?

learning how to work

On Tuesday I was among the pool of jurors who received questioning from the judge for a specific trial set for this week. I was seated in the jury box along with 12 others, behind a row of alternates. We each had to introduce ourselves to the judge. The introduction that struck me the most went something like this, “My name is Bee. I’m 22 years old. I don’t have a job. I don’t want a job. I just wanna be free to live my life. I enjoy sports – football, basketball, running… I work out about three hours a day. I played football for Hamline University, but I dropped out because of too much debt….” He went on to talk about recent fishing trips, and his two dogs.

“How do you feed your dogs if you don’t work?” the judge asked him. I was relieved the judge had said something that might make this boy think, but based on his response, I was afraid the comment was lost on the poor soul.

The incident got me thinking about how parents pass along a value for work. One way is by example. It also helps to assign children responsibilities around the home so that they feel they are contributing members of the family and see first hand how each person contributes for the benefit of all. I also turn to books to reinforce important values.

Last evening we read the book One Hen by Katie Smith Milway. It is an inspiring story of a young boy in Ghana who gets a loan to buy a hen. He sells the extra eggs from the hen and saves the money to buy another hen. After he builds his flock to several hens, he saves money so he can return to school. As we were reading, my son asked if we could get chickens just like the boy and sell them at the market, just like the boy did. At the end, we both enjoyed reading about the real boy whom the story is based on, a boy who was young and struggling when someone gave him a chance.

Perhaps that was Bee’s problem. He’d never had the opportunity to struggle. Everything had been too easy for him. Now, how do I ensure my boys don’t suffer from that same syndrome?

the beauty of a (mostly) wordless book


My sons and I first “read” this book last week. We studied the pictures and came up with what we thought was a suitable interpretation for the watercolor illustrations, most of which are not accompanied by any words.

This morning the boys were reviewing the book with their daddy, who interpreted a few of the pictures somewhat differently. A fair amount of discussion ensued, with both father and son supporting their views from the text. Then, the younger one wanted to keep turning back to one certain page asking, “What happened?” He needed to hear that part of the story again and again.

A wordless book offers lots of opportunities to talk about the “text,” to extend the conversation and to introduce new concepts and vocabulary.

Have you got a favorite wordless book?

enroll your child in a summer reading program

Some of my earliest memories of summer reading are associated with the book mobile. My siblings and I used to ride our bikes about five miles to Sobieski, where the book mobile stopped, and fill our backpacks up with books. (I’m not sure I always finished mine before we had to take them back. I think my sister Clair always did.)

Now my goal is to share the joys of summer reading with my boys. So we’ve signed them up for a summer reading program. Such programs offer a great way to encourage children to discover new things, travel to exotic places, or  enjoy the beauty of language through books. I’ve looked at a few summer reading program options:

Half Price Books – Feed Your Brain

Who: children age 14 and under

What: Read for at least 300 minutes in a month to earn a $5 coupon.

Barnes and Noble – Imagination’s Destination

Who: children in grades 1-6

What: Read eight books and keep a reading journal. Take the completed journal to a store to get a coupon for a free book.

Pottery Barn Kids – Summer Reading Challenge

Who: children under 10 years of age

What: Read all the books on their book list and then visit the store to receive a free book.

Scholastic Summer Challenge

Who: school age children and teens

What: Log minutes reading and win prizes online.

Sylvan Book Adventure

Who: children in grades K-8

What: Select books, read them, take online quizzes and win cool prizes.

After looking at these options, we settled on our library program, which offers a child the choice of one book to keep for each 10 hours of reading completed.

The best thing about a reading program – any reading program – is that it keeps us reading all summer. (Doesn’t it seem that there are fewer distractions in the winter?)  It is my hope that this routine helps foster a life-long enjoyment of reading. Perhaps if we regularly read to our children, one day they’ll choose to take advantage of the extra time summer affords for sinking into the luxury of a good book.

What summer reading plan do you recommend? Why?

developing print awareness

A second important aspect of literacy development is helping your child recognize print and understand that it conveys a message. Perhaps all a parent ever really needs to do is read to a child and the child will figure this out. But there are several other ways you can help drive home the point. These activities can help ensure your child is developing foundational reading readiness skills.

Point to each word as you read a story. This reinforces the idea of left to right directionality and the connection between specific sounds and words.

Explain the format of a book. You can teach the vocabulary related to the parts of a book: front cover, title page, dedication page, and table of contents, for example. Remember to read the author’s and illustrator’s names. Point out page numbers if the book as them.

Help a child create his or her own books.

Label objects in your child’s room and practice reading the words together. Add sentences or labels to the pictures that your child draws. Or use a white board or chalkboard to write sentences that your child dictates.

What are some other ways to have fun with words?

we like our library

When we moved, I wasn’t convinced that another library could compare to the one we used to go to regularly (could walk to, in fact.) But I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Here are some of the reasons:

A) The story time librarian
She likes books, kids, and music. She brings good stories, a drum and a guitar as well as a bunch of enthusiasm to each session. We sing in at least two languages every week.

B) A great summer reading program
What better way could to encourage more reading than to offer books for prizes?

C) An emphasis on early literacy development
Bookmarks and other resources for patrons encourage caregivers to use books to their full advantage, but most of all to just keep reading.

D) Access to lots of books
Though it is a smaller library, it is a part of a major metro library system. The books I’ve requested so far have arrived in a timely fashion.

What do you like about your library?


One of my new favorite authors is someone I never would have discovered had I not had a child: Sandra Boynton. Her books Barnyard Dance, Pajama Time, and One, Two, Three are all clever, rhythmic, and cute. We’ve also been reading a fair amount of Oliver Dunrea’s work, the board books about goslings Gossie and Gertie et. al.

When the little one is asleep, I try to squeeze in some adult reading. I’ve got a couple books in progress including Infidel by Ayaan Hersi Ali and Ourselves as Mothers by Sheila Kitzinger.

What are you reading?


Our ten-month-old likes books.

He smiles at many of the pictures as we’re reading, reviews a book by looking through it again once I’ve read it, and points at things that catch his interest. He is developing his page-turning skills, though sometimes he’s a bit over-eager with this task. He already shows a preference for certain books, and he sometimes “reads” on his own.

It’s fun to pass along this love of reading, and it’s more my responsibility that I may have realized. Today I came across a summary of some research out of Harvard that found the following four factors encourage childhood reading:

  • a home literacy environment (lots of print material, positive attitudes toward reading, etc.)
  • mother’s educational expectations of the child
  • mother’s own education
  • parent-child interaction

Would that every child had the proper balance of these four elements to give them a solid educational foundation.