Seven Reasons Why I Still Read Aloud to my 7 Year Old—And You Should Too!
Today, February 16, is World Read Aloud Day, an event organized by Scholastic and the international nonprofit literacy organization LitWorld. This event calls global attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories.
As the mother of a 7 year old, this is an event that I will be celebrating in our home today. After school, we will go to a local library where my daughter participates in a Read to Dogs program. And tonight, I plan to read aloud to her from one of my childhood favorites, Heidi, which we have been reading aloud together, slowly, over the past few months.
A recent Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report in the US, Australia, UK, and India shows that the frequency of parents reading aloud to children changes dramatically after the ages of 5 and 8. But in our household, I’m working hard to continue reading aloud to my child (despite the lack of enthusiasm she sometimes exhibits when I offer to do so).
Here are 7 reasons why I continue to read aloud to my daughter, and why you should too, not just on World Read Aloud Day, but as much as you can throughout your child’s growing years.
1. Reading aloud opens the door for us to talk about sometimes difficult subjects like the human body. When my daughter recently brought me a board book like The Potty Book by Ally Frankel, my mental response was “Oh, this is such a baby book. You can read it by yourself.” But wait, reading a book with illustrations of the human body and about potty training surprisingly proved to be the perfect doorway to talking about her private parts. “That is your vagina and that is your anus.” She listened intently as I provided her with the big-girl names for her private parts, something that I want her to learn at this age from me in a factual manner that does away with giggling and discomfort.
2. Reading aloud allows us to self-reflect on her self-growth.
When Anna Dewdney, author of the Llama Llama books, recently passed away, we picked up our copy of Llama Llama Red Pajama as our bedtime read aloud. As soon as we started the book, my daughter pointed to Baby Lllama, saying, “Mama, that used to be me when I was little!” We laughed together about the antics of baby Lllama, but underneath it all was a proud seven year old acknowledging that she is now not afraid of going to sleep on her own. It was a proud moment for her. And, a proud moment for me too; one that we could celebrate together.
3. Reading aloud is a special time for us.
Despite what my daughter says about my funny character voices or how she can read faster by herself than if I read a chapter book out loud to her, she is not much different from 83 percent of American children 6–17 who reported in the Scholastic study that they love read aloud time at home because “it’s a special time with my parent.” Whether in the US or around the world, children of parents who stopped reading books aloud to their children at home reported in the Scholastic study that they wanted the read aloud to continue (57% India, 40% U.S., 36% Australia, and 31% U.K.) for this very reason.
I’ve seen first hand how our heart-to-heart conversations are meaningful and natural bookends that frame the actual bedtime story that I read to her. As a parent, I have struggled with how to extract details about the school day from my daughter. “How was your day?” I ask. “Good,” she says, running over to the pantry to find her favorite snack when she gets home from school. Slowing down and getting under her cosy comforter at the end of a long school day with a book provides the ideal opportunity for us to chat about the little things on her mind. I discover details such as the fact that there is a map in the school bathroom that she discovered with her friends. Or if I’m lucky, she makes up a silly story or tall tale about her school day for me to see how I will respond.
4. Reading aloud is my chance to put new books in front of my daughter and to provide her with books that can serve as windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors to the world.
My daughter is growing up as one of a few South Asian children in a predominantly white, suburban school. She is also a self-proclaimed “not girly-girl.” I am always on the lookout for books with strong, female multicultural characters that I can casually “stage” on her bookshelf. Reading these books aloud gives us a chance to talk about complexities of growing up as a girl of color in a natural way. My daughter feels less alone and knows that her experience is shared by other girls — both fictional (such as Lola Levine from the excellent chapter book series about a biracial girl by Monica Brown) and real-life figures (such as Sonia Sotomayor who she read about in a leveled biography reader) — she can grow up being comfortable walking in her own shoes and be anything she wants to be.
5. Reading aloud to my daughter now that she is a “reader” means that I get to go back to my childhood favorites and re-read them through the eyes of a child. It also allows me to expose my daughter to classics that become part of our family literary traditions.
When we read a long children’s novel like Pippi Longstocking or Heidi together or stories about the ancient Indian King Akbar and his witty court advisor Birbal, we are creating a ritual of togetherness. We have a bedtime book that we can come back to day after day, week after week together. This treat or incentive makes getting to bed easier — there’s something to look forward to. It also allows us to virtually travel around the world to new places and instills in my daughter a thirst for knowing about far-away places or long-ago times. “Where are the Alps, mama?” she asks one night, pointing to the globe at her bedside, or “Was there really a King Akbar?”
6. Reading aloud to my daughter means that I am investing my time to showing her that reading matters and that it can serve as meaningful “together-time.”
One likely reason is that we believe that encouraging our kids to be independent readers is the right thing to do for their academic growth. But, sometimes, instead of saying, “It’s now reading time. Go read a book,” I say, “Let’s read one of my favorite books together.” When my actions speak louder than my words — and I can show her that her coming a reader doesn’t mean that she will always be all alone at bedtime, or that reading means time away from fun and play, I cultivate a child who loves reading. Reading becomes a family activity; something that can make us laugh, sing, talk, and explore topics outside and beyond ourselves.
7. When I read aloud to my daughter, I grow a life-long reader.
Since we finished reading Pippi Longstocking aloud together last spring, I have found my daughter going back to the book repeatedly, curling up on her favorite couch, reading her favorite parts over and over again, giggling to herself. In a time where screentime is often the most attractive treat for kids, I’m watching my daughter grow into a child for whom an even sweeter treat is a trip to the library. A recent study shows that 9 in 10 children ages 6–17 are more likely to finish reading a book that they have picked out themselves. So, I make sure that she picks out books that she wants to read — and I gather up picture books and other shorter reads that I can read to her.
As my daughter stretches and becomes a more independent reader, I know I will be making deals with her about when she will get to read to herself and when I will get to read out loud to her. I suspect those deals will involve a later bedtime! And sometimes, it may hurt to have to wheedle and plea, Please, please, can I read you a book, and to have her say No or rolls her eyes and say Mama, not today, but I will keep trying. Because every time I do, there’s this giant hug that follows—that makes it all worthwhile!
Sandhya Nankani is a children’s media producer, editor, and writer. Her award-winning children’s apps, HangArt and Grandma’s Great Gourd celebrate storytelling and provide read-aloud opportunities that are designed to bring families and children together. Twitter: @litsfari, @litsafariapps.