Ageless Rewards of Reading Aloud
Part of Lifelong Human Story
Margaret Robson Kett :
Readers love to share what they're reading, and there are few pleasures for story lovers like being read to.
From toddlers on someone's lap, listening to a picture book they've heard a hundred times, to a full auditorium, hushed, listening to a writer read their own work, reading aloud is part of the lifelong human story journey.
As a librarian I frequently hear parents of primary school children lament that they miss the nightly bedtime rituals of book sharing - now that their child can read for themselves. But there's no need for this precious shared experience to stop.
Here are seven rewards of reading aloud:
1. Share the experience
Reading aloud brings an author's world alive for listeners to wonder and talk about together. Once a reader becomes confident, the act itself becomes silent. This is one of reading's pleasures. Reading aloud enables those spontaneous moments of a character's action or dilemma to spark the sharing of personal experiences
2. Relax and enjoy
Children may be emotionally ready for a story before they're able to read it independently. For example, many young people heard Harry Potter before they could read it for themselves. Stories shared in this way become part of a family's shared history. Hearing the story read aloud, by an enthusiastic and enraptured adult means that the mechanical difficulties are overcome and pure enjoyment can take over.
3. Technical support
Reading aloud at home supports formal teaching once children go to school. An understanding of how story works is essential to learning to read, and teachers appreciate a family interest in books and stories.
Parents sometimes feel that they are not academic enough to scaffold their children's learning. 'What counts are genuine interest and active engagement,' says the Secretary-General of the OECD. Has your school hosted a Reading Aloud Night recently? Maybe you could organise one.
4. Get picky
Research shows children are more motivated to read for pleasure when they choose the books for themselves. This applies to what they listen to as well.
Ask your librarian (with your child) for recommended titles. Read out the blurb and a sample page from two or three book to make your choice together.
5. Keeping it real
It doesn't have to be "fiction" to be great. Readers of all ages choose to only read true stories. Reading history and biography out loud is just as satisfying as a novel.
There's a fantastic selection of Australian nonfiction for young readers to choose from.
6. Be opportunistic
Night-time might not be the right time to read. It's when everyone's reconnecting after a day apart, and sharing a meal and daily news, which is more pressing than the page. But perhaps encourage reading from screens in the kitchen or family room. Share aloud news, sport and opinion. Read out the program descriptions from the TV guide to encourage selective viewing. Save the book for a Sunday morning snuggle on the couch.
7. Let it speak to you
'Reading aloud' can be hands-free. Talking books are a great companion in the car, on holidays and for TV-free evenings at home. Many are wonderful narrations by distinguished actors. The ABC Shop has a wide selection, or check your local library's website for free downloads.
Reading aloud is supposed to be for pleasure, so don't be upset if that treasured favourite of your own childhood has your listeners bored and fidgeting. The story just may not speak to them, or may be best discovered on their own later on. I'm still getting over nobody else in my family falling in love with Betsy.
(Margaret Robson Kett has been a specialist children's librarian in Australia for over 35 years and has written about books for children and young people for the Australian Book Review and Magpies: Talking about books for children. She was a judge for the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year awards in 2006/07).