"If you want to raise readers, you must provide them with books as soon as humanly possible. This is a parental obligation on par with vaccinations."
– Deirdre Donahue, children’s book reviewer, USA Today
Reading aloud to your kids is easy when they are little and enjoy cuddling up and sharing a fun picture book. However, in the midst of the business of long school days, homework, chores, play, music lessons, and all of the other things that make life so very busy and fast-moving, reading aloud to your school-aged child may be a rarity, a relic of the past.
Why Reading Aloud is Important
If parents truly want to help their children become confident, life-long readers, continuing the tradition of reading aloud to them is crucial. In the book, Bright Beginnings for Young Boys: Engaging Young Boys in Active Literacy, authors Debby Zambo and William G. Brozo explain how reading aloud to boys helps them develop oral language- the ability to speak and listen- which is the basis for reading.
They describe the three components of oral language that boys must learn: the form of language (understanding phonemes, syntax, morphology, and fluency), content (understanding vocabulary and semantics) and the function (pragmatics) of language.
Interestingly, 90% of kids who are classified as having a learning disability lack phonemic awareness, an essential part of understanding the form of language. Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill that requires a listener to isolate individual sounds in words. Phonemic awareness development comes naturally when children are read to: songs, poems, nursery rhymes, and stories that are repetitive build phonemic awareness. Boys must HEAR sounds in speech from an able reader in order to then integrate this skill in written words.
Choose Stories Boys Can Relate To
Of course, if your child or male student isn’t interested in the story you are reading, it is likely he will not pay attention to what you are reading. This is why, when reading aloud to boys, it is important to choose books with male protagonists they can relate to, to read with expression, and to allow boys to interrupt to ask questions or to demonstrate something they are thinking about.
One researcher stated that boys can learn phonemic awareness in the dark. It is an important skill that can only be learned through hearing spoken language; remember that when boys are reading on their own, they should be encouraged to read whatever interests them: newspapers, magazines, comic books, etc. However, stories are one of the best ways for parents to verbally impart phonemic awareness to their child. There is more room to demonstrate the form of language, structure, and vocabulary through a fictional piece of work that contains dialogue, a story arc, and rich, descriptive language.
Establish a Bedtime Reading Routine: Consistency is Key
The best time to read to your child, perhaps, is right before bedtime. After your child is in his pajamas, has bathed and brushed his teeth, he is calm; his mind and body are relaxing in preparation for sleep. This is the best time to get your physically active child to be still and hear a good story.
Consistency is important. Skipping a night because you feel tired will give him the impression that the time spent reading together is not that important to you. Sticking with the routine will provide him with a sense of security and life-long, positive memories and a plethora of “book-friends” to think back upon and maybe revisit throughout his lifetime.
If your child balks as being read to, consistency will help him to realize that the routine of reading aloud is mandatory, like brushing his teeth or eating his vegetables. There may be pouting and complaining at first, and insistence that he’d rather be watching a television show, but chances are he will soon happily find himself walking through the wardrobe with Lucy into Narnia, worrying that Snowbell will one day devour Stuart Little, or calling his pencils “frindles” to the confusion of his friends.
Reading aloud to your child is a gift that will stay with him his whole life.