Many people think that we should only read aloud with children who cannot read on their own. These people think that as soon as children can read, we should stop reading aloud with them. That would be a mistake. Yes, the main way that these children should read is silently by themselves, but we should continue to sometimes read aloud with these children, even when they become teenagers, even when they can read the same books that we read, and maybe even when these children and youth can read as well as we can. Here are some reasons why.
1. Reading aloud allows us to introduce new kinds of reading. For example, many people seldom or never read poetry, even though poetry has much to offer. The poet Robert Frost wrote, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and a thought has found its words.”
Some people think poetry is always complicated, and that sometimes is true. However, poetry also can be simple, inspiring, and educational. Here is an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all.
Here is an English translation of a poem by Tang Dynasty poet Li Shen:
Farmers weeding at noon,
Sweat down the field soon.
Who knows food on a tray
Thanks to their toiling day?
2. Reading aloud with children can be a simple way to share a pleasant experience with them, just as when we watch a movie or a funny cat video with them. Sometimes, it can be difficult to have common experiences, because the older children are, the more they are likely to go off into their separate worlds in different places, with different people. Books or excerpts from books offer a way to bring us back together with these older children, just as in the days when they were younger and we would read aloud with them.
3. Reading aloud can serve as a discussion starter. For example, there is a large series of books called Chicken Soup for the Soul. The name of the series comes from a tradition in some cultures that drinking soup can help us relieve tension and temporarily forget our troubles. There are now more than 250 books in the Chicken Soup series. Each book has a different focus, such as Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul and Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul: Think Positive. All the books in the series consist of many short inspirational stories. We can just read one story and then facilitate the discussion after the story. Maybe, with the help of such stories, we can have discussions that might be difficult to have otherwise. Current events stories, happy or sad, in newspapers or online, can serve the same purpose. By reading the stories aloud first, we give everyone a chance to share background information; therefore everyone enters the discussion with the same level of knowledge.
4. Older children, rather than us, can be the ones who read aloud, or we can share in the reading aloud and in the dialog. Be careful, because reading aloud can be difficult, and we do not want these older children to embarrass themselves by reading poorly. Thus, unless the book’s reading level is well below the children’s reading level, we might want to give them time to prepare before they read aloud.
5. Similarly, older children can share with us in the fun of reading aloud to younger children. These younger children may be especially inspired by the reading aloud of older children whom they admire. Again, just as we adults often benefit from preparing before reading aloud, so too might these older children.
6. Reading with others provides motivation. I think these concerns are exaggerated, but some people worry that persons you and old are reading less and less. This would be unfortunate, because as Stephen Covey, author of the famous book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote, “The person who doesn’t read is no better off than the person who can’t read.” One way to promote reading and to motivate children and youth who might be reluctant readers is to have occasional read aloud sessions with them.
You might worry that these children and youth read books that require many hours to read; thus, we could not finish a book in one or even a few sessions. No worries. We can start and then the children and youth can continue on their own silently, or even better, we can have multiple sessions reading aloud the same book.