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Many Benefits to Parents Reading Aloud to Older Children

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Many parents are aware of the importance of reading aloud to young children, but few continue this practice once their children have learned to read independently.  Reading experts and research indicates that parents should keep reading to their children even in their teens. Not only do older children enjoy being read aloud at home they also benefit academically and socially from the experience.

Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report, a research survey conducted in Fall 2014 by Scholastic and YouGov, reported that 54 percent of children ages 0-5 are read to aloud at home 5-7 days a week, 34 percent of ages 6-8, and only 17 percent of ages 9-11. One of the highlights of the report was that among kids ages 6-11 whose parents are no longer reading to them at home, 40 percent wish their parents had continued reading aloud to them.  According to the survey, the top reasons kids enjoy being read to include “it’s a special time with my parent” (78 percent), “reading together is fun” (65 percent), and “it’s relaxing to be read to before I go to sleep” (54 percent).

If that isn’t sweet enough to convince you to share a bedtime reading tonight, consider the many academic and social benefits of reading with your older child.

Reading  books aloud to children encourages children to read more books on their own. Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report found that 41 percent of frequent readers ages 6-10 were read aloud to at home, while only 13 percent of infrequent readers were being read to. Sharing books at home encourages children to be frequent and probably lifelong readers.

Reading aloud to older children gives them exposure to more challenging material and a richer vocabulary, increasing their listening comprehension.  Reading expert Jim Trelease says, in an interview with Connie Matthiessen (a Synergy parent alum), “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… A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read herself, and reading aloud is really going to hook her, because when you get to chapter books, you’re getting into the real meat of print — there is really complicated, serious stuff going on that kids are ready to hear and understand, even if they can’t read at that level yet.” Teachers report that reading aloud to students in the classroom deepens students’ understanding of the materials.  For example, in an article in School Library Journal, North Dakota librarian Doreen Rosevold, who works with grades 6–12, says, “Students hear word pronunciations and inflections that they might miss in their own reading, and in listening to them, they create mental images.”

Reading aloud to older children can open a pathway for discussion of awkward or difficult topics.  Reading and discussing issues in a book that you are sharing gives parents and kids a no-judgement, no stress opportunity to talk about those issues in the context of the characters and the story as well as make connections to real-world social issues. In the interview with Matthiessen, Trelease says, “For example, you can tell your child, ‘I don’t want you to hang out with so and so,’ but that’s a lecture that will probably go in one ear and out the other. But if you read a book about a kid who gets in trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd, your child is going to experience that directly, and she’s going to experience it with you at her side, and you can talk about it together. You can ask questions like: ‘Do you think the boy made the right choice?’ ‘Do you think that girl was really her friend?'”

Reading aloud to older children reconnects them to the pleasure of reading for fun and counteracts what Trelease calls the “sweat mentality” around books.  That is, the older a student gets, the more assignments they have to do around reading and less time they have for reading for fun.   Scholastic’s report found that children’s reading enjoyment declines sharply after age 8, from 62 percent of children ages 6-8 report that they “like a lot” or “love” reading books for fun, down to 46-49 percent for ages 9-17. The study found a similar drop in the importance that children place on reading for fun, with 52 percent of children ages 6-8 agreeing that is “very important” or “extremely important” for them to read for fun, and then dropping down to below 45 percent for older children.  The same study found that these two factors, children’s reading enjoyment and a belief that reading books for fun is important, are strongly correlated with being frequent readers. Parents’ reading frequency was also highly correlated with children’s reading frequency, but much less so than the other two factors. So, put down your book for a little while and enjoy reading a book to your kid tonight!