Every parent knows that the benefits of reading to children are vast. Reading helps babies, toddlers and preschoolers develop spoken language, recognize letters and words and get ready for kindergarten. But as kids become older, reading to them slowly fades. Schedules become busier and reading out loud isn't a priority.
Research shows that continued reading aloud after age 5 (and well beyond) improves reading and listening skills and academic performance ultimately enriching their lives and opportunities.
Here are 9 key reasons to continue reading aloud to older kids:
1. Vocabulary is enriched
Kids who are read to encounter more words—and learn how to recognize and pronounce them—than they would by just being spoken to. And studies show that having a large vocabulary helps kids perform better in school.
2. Comprehension improves
When kids are engaged and invested in the story, they understand it more thoroughly. You can check in as you go to see whether your kid understands what's going on and ask what they think will happen next, what they think of the characters, and so on.
3. Bonds are strengthened
Positive experiences and warm memories of hearing stories from a loved one can inspire a lifelong love of reading. Award-wining novelist T.C. Boyle told a crowd at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books that he learned to read not in school but from his mom reading to him—and that when he reads now, he still hears her voice in his head.
4. Listening improves
Reading aloud nurtures appreciation of rich language and helps train kids' ears for understanding instruction in school. According to educator Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, “A child's reading level doesn't catch up to his listening level until eighth grade."
5. Kids appreciate the classics
Kids may be put off by the challenging language of Shakespeare or the old-fashioned settings of Jane Austen in school, but in a cozy setting at home, you can help the text come alive as you take on different characters' voices and fill in historical context.
6. Difficult issues can be addressed
Older kids may tune out if you lecture them about what to do. But if you read a story that shows characters grappling with serious conflicts and the consequences of their actions—or facing bullying, racism, religious or ethnic bias, or gender discrimination—it's a segway into talking about complex, topical matters.
7. Exposure to different genres
Reading aloud lets parents introduce kids to different types of books and stories, helping kids learn which kinds they'd like to choose for themselves. Reading a variety of material boosts all kinds of learning. Try poetry, satire, manga, and autobiographies.
8. Kids' interests are exposed
Reading books on subjects or in genres kids love (sci-fi, fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, graphic novels, Norse mythology, Minecraft, whatever!) gives you something to share and discuss, while also putting you on a level playing field—rather than you always being the teacher who knows more than they do.
9. It sparks curiosity
Nonfiction books make great read-alouds, too. For older kids and teens, try books or articles by journalists covering current or recent events and world issues. And there are lots of popular histories that are so engaging they read like nail-biting fiction.