Friday, April 24, 2015

Why You Can't Afford to NOT Read Aloud to Your Kids

I have mentioned on my blog how important it is to cuddle up with your kids with a good book.  But it seems like lately I am being reminded of the tremendous benefits of reading aloud.

Reading The One and Only Ivan.

I have three reasons you should begin this habit, tonight, with your kids.  The first is obvious--spending quality time together.  The second is the exposure to new vocabulary you can give them, and the third is the opportunity for them to observe relationships between people.

When Jonah started first grade, he stopped wanting us to read aloud to him.  I think part of it was just the independence of a seven year old, but I also think he was so excited about reading, he didn't want someone to slow him down by reading aloud.  He would devour books in no time, and I was left feeling kind of sad that we didn't have that special time anymore.  I tried reading aloud to both the boys, but I seemed to always chose the wrong book or the wrong time of day to introduce it.  I have learned over the years that there is an art to choosing a read-aloud, and the time of day to ask them to sit still and listen is not right when they get home from school!  After I read an article in Parent magazine that encouraged reading aloud and suggested titles, I got my hands on The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate and Jonah, Carson, and I laughed until we cried reading it.  I discovered the best time to read was right before bed (preferably after Camden has gone to bed, but sometimes his wiggly self joins us), and for some reason, they think it is exciting to read in my bed.  The other title we enjoyed from that list was Alvin Ho, Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, by Lenore Look.  But after this book, we couldn't seem to get into any others, and our read-alouds stopped.

Then, about a month later, Jonah said, "Remember when you used to read aloud to us in your bed at night?  I want to do that again."  So, guess what we did?  We went to the Overdrive app I had just installed on my ipad, and we searched for an eBook we might like.  Have you heard of Overdrive?  It is one of the coolest things ever!  I love that from the comfort of our home, we can browse titles, read samples from the books, and have access to the one we choose instantly!  They selected House of Robots, by James Patterson.  I knew it was appropriate for their age, but I didn't know anything else about it.  This book has turned out to be one of our favorite books, and one we quote and refer to often.

On to reason number two to read aloud to your kids.  I am reading a book called The Mission of Motherhood, by Sally Clarkson.  In this book, the author tells about how she used to listen to Charles' Dickens book, Oliver Twist with her children on long car rides.  She mentions having to stop the recording to explain to her children complicated ideas and unfamiliar vocabulary words.  She says she was "impressed by the high literary quality of the book, which was created for the average reader of his [Dickens'] day." She goes on to say that "Today, many average readers find his reading hard to follow--if they have the patience to sit down and read it (or listen to it) at all."  Clarkson feels like the reason for the difference in readers' understanding is the fact that we are not forced to stretch and exercise our brains quite like the people in Dickens' day were.  They did not have xboxes and DSes, iPhones and DVRs.  They had to read, talk to each other face to face, or sit and think, and the result was a vocabulary higher than most teens today.

I have found that when I read aloud to my kids, we often stop to make sure we understand what is happening (I am most guilty of this when my mind wanders) and to look up words.  Sometimes Jonah knows what a word means and Carson does not, so Jonah gets to play the role of big brother teaching little.  Sometimes I know what the word means and I explain it to them, and there are occasions when I do not know the word and we look it up on my dictionary app (they love to hear the pronunciation the app provides).  As a result, the boys are building on their vocabulary.  Just the other day Carson was telling Boompa (his grandpa) how glad he is that he has siblings.  My dad looked at me with an interested look and said, "When I was his age I'm not sure I knew that word, much less would I think to use it in a sentence!"

Speaking of siblings brings me to my third point...learning from other people's relationships.  We were only a few chapters into House of Robots when the boys pointed out the relationship between the main character, Sammy, and his sister.  He describes her as his first best friend.  He also talks about how he has to take care of her since he is her big brother.  The boys were amazed by their relationship, noting that most sibling relationships they see on tv revolve around annoying and teasing each other, not on being best friends.  I was happy they picked up on this, because I want them to be best buds.   Observing healthy relationships like the one between Sammy and his sister, Maddie can help them realize that it is very normal to be buds, and that siblings can love each other and be friends.

These two are enjoying reading "together" already, and I look forward to the day when all three boys can enjoy the same book with me.  But for now, I am happy my two year old is already reading. :)

Next week I will share a few other titles that are good for read-alouds, along with some of my favorites.  Stay tuned.

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