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Five Reasons that Reading Aloud (Even to Older Children) is Beneficial (Plus a Bonus List of Book Suggestions)

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By Kristi Holmes Espineira, Mackintosh Littleton Director of Advancement

You can’t tell from today’s surprise spring snowstorm, but summer is just around the corner! Mack students will soon go home with their summer reading lists, and solo reading is an important part of nurturing kids’ reading skills over the summer. But have you considered how reading aloud to your child, through middle school and beyond, can be part of your family’s summer reading routine?

If you’re a parent of an emergent reader, you may already have a routine that includes reading aloud. As your children grow and become fluent independent readers, this precious family reading time can fall by the wayside in our busy lives. So we want to issue a summer reading challenge to our Mack parents: increase your read-aloud time with younger children, or rekindle your read-aloud time with the older kids — even pre-teens!

Need convincing? Here are five (possibly surprising) reasons that reading aloud to children is beneficial:

1. Keep their reading enthusiasm high.

When your child learned to read on her own, you may have breathed a sigh of relief and cut reading aloud out of the evening routine. However, research shows that children, especially boys, begin to lose interest in reading for pleasure around fifth grade — the exact time that parents may be backing off on the bedtime stories. By spending time reading aloud to your children, you’re modeling an enthusiasm for and enjoyment of reading that can last throughout their lives.

2. Their “listening level” may be higher than their reading level.

Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook says, “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.” By reading aloud books that are “above their level,” you’re enriching their vocabulary and promoting fluency that they can carry over into independent reading.

3. Tackle the tough topics with parental support.

By reading books that feature challenging issues (bullying, injustice, substance abuse, etc.) with your children, you give kids an opportunity to ask questions about topics they might never raise on their own. You will be able to tune into your child’s concerns, address the issue and communicate your values on neutral ground, without them feeling singled out.

4. Provide space for the child to immerse himself in rich imagination and pure story without the sometimes frustrating work of reading.

Rebecca Bellingham, reading expert and TEDX speaker on “Why We Should All be Reading Aloud to Children” , says, “When we teachers and parents read aloud, we do the tricky decoding work and we free kids to think and imagine the story.” When listening, your child’s brain is free to indulge in visualization and simply go where the story takes her. Isn’t that what we ultimately love most about reading — losing ourselves in other lives and other worlds?

5. Introduce classics that they may not otherwise choose for themselves.

What was your favorite book from childhood? Your kids may naturally reach for the latest well-known titles, but if you can slip in a few classics that have stood the test of time, they may find they love them as much as you did, and new interests may be sparked. Diane Dunne, Mackintosh Littleton Head of School, fondly recalls reading Swallows and Amazons, first published in 1930 by Arthur Ransome, to her son when he was around eleven years old. This tale, about the adventures of two families of children who camp on an island in a lake, sparked his interest in sailing. He went on to become a competitive sailor and then earned a Ph.D. in fluid dynamics. Diane believes that read-aloud classic played an important part in kindling those interests.

We hope you will take advantage of the slower pace of summer to revel in read-aloud time with your children. Here’s a list of book suggestions from our Littleton staff to get you started:

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Admissions Director/Asst. Head of School Beth Steklac: Winnie the Pooh has some wonderful subtle humor for adults, while appealing to little ones. We also enjoyed The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, and of course, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. I love Paddle to the Sea for 6-7 year olds. Kids’ poetry books are super-fun at any time (Silverstein, Insectlopedia, A. A. Milne.) Lastly, I really enjoyed reading Born to Run to middle school students; it’s a very powerful story that needs some editing, so read aloud is best. Love Farley Mowat!

Curriculum Coordinator Sharon Muench: The Princess Bride.

Performing Arts Teacher Kelly Kates: Wonder by RJ Palacio and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Middle School Humanities Teacher Megan Rich: I may be biased, but I would say anything written by Shakespeare is a great read-aloud. I also love Jabberwocky.

5/6 Co-Teacher Nancy Muhich: Wind in the Willows sounds lovely when read aloud. Personal fave that I never grow tired of: Dr Seuss, Fox in Socks. The Lightning Thief books by Rick Riordan are delightful to read aloud, as are the Harry Potter books.

Head of School Diane Dunne: I would certainly second The Wind in the Willows and add Treasure Island and some books by Farley Mowat – The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be and Never Cry Wolf.

3/4 Lead Teacher Lula Guilbert: Preschool – The Little Mouse, the Red, Ripe Strawberry, and the Big, Hungry Bear. Primary – Tippy-Toe, Chick Go, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Elementary – Wonder, Fish In A Tree, The Hundred Dresses. Middle School – Tuck Everlasting.

3/4 Co-Teacher Heather Thomas: Magnus Chase, The Kane Chronicles, The Lost Heroes — all by Rick Riordan
The Books of Bayern (series) by Shannon Hale
Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Oxcart Man, The Barefoot Book of Fairies (younger)

Kindergarten Teacher Rebecca Blauw: Shin’s Tricycle. Review from Amazon: A beautifully illustrated true story of another family’s experience of the bombing of Hiroshima. Shin’s uncle is able to get him the impossible: the tricycle he desperately wants. He is riding the wonderful, brand-new tricycle when the atom bomb is dropped. Shin is found in the rubble, holding on to his treasure. He dies later that day, ten days before his fourth birthday. The tricycle now sits in the Peace Museum in Hiroshima.

Let Me Hold You Longer: A must read for parents! Review from Amazon: With lighthearted illustrations and a sweet, reflective tone, best-selling author Karen Kingsbury encourages parents to savor not only their children’s firsts, like first steps and first words, but the lasts as well. With the tenderness of a mother speaking directly to her child, Karen reminds us not to miss last days of kindergarten and last at-bats in Little League amid the whirlwind of life. Adapted from a poem in Rejoice, this book allows mothers and grandmothers everywhere to identify with the tenderhearted reflections on these pages.