When I was in 5th grade my teacher, Mrs. Huffman, read aloud to our class every afternoon. Some of us would draw, some of us would lay our heads down, but all of us became absorbed in the story. This is when I really started to fall in love with books. She read Where the Red Fern Grows and we all were quiet and still, imagining the woods and mountains of the Ozarks and the beautiful relationship of Billy and his dogs. We all wept along with Mrs. Huffman when the dogs gave their lives for Billy. It was one of the moments of my childhood that I will never forget.
Next she read Silas Marner by George Eliot a high school level novel written in 1861. This novel had deep themes, higher level vocabulary, and more formal language. Yet, we loved it. I still remember the story of Silas and Eppie and it remains a fond memory of school for me.
That year I became a frequent visitor to the library because I had felt this incredible magic of books. I read all 86 Nancy Drew novels. I read another series called Cherry Ames about a mystery solving nurse (I just found out Cherry Ames was written during WWII to encourage girls to become nurses to aid the war effort). I read all of the Big Red series about an Irish Setter. And I read everything in between. I read anything I could get my hands on. In junior high, I read all of my mom’s Harlequin Romance novels. I was a voracious reader. It made me a better student and helped me score well on standardized tests.
This all happened because a teacher read to me.
Reading aloud has numerous benefits for children:
-Allows them to enjoy a story above their own reading level.
-Creates a culture where books and stories are valued.
-Provides a model of reading fluency.
-Introduces vocabulary, sentence structure, and language which helps increase their own reading ability.
-Shows children that reading is enjoyable and fun.
-Acts as a bonding activity between reader and child.
While I did not understand all the words and language usage in Silas Marner, because it was read aloud to me I did not have to decode the words while trying to understand the plot. That is the beautiful thing about reading aloud, it allows children to just sit back and enjoy the story.
This is extremely important for children who don’t read fluently on their own. Because they are never at a level to read for enjoyment, so they never see reading as fun. We want kids to read for the pure joy of reading! Those kids will then be able to read for knowledge so much easier than kids who do not read well.
Creating a culture of reading in your home helps you raise readers. Readers who read for enjoyment and readers who can read for knowledge.
How can you create a reading culture in your home?
-Start when your kids are babies. Read to them!
-Keep a wide variety of books and reading material in your home.
-Read aloud in the evenings together or at bedtime. Make it a tradition, something you do every evening.
-Support teachers who want to create rich, diverse classroom libraries for students.
When I taught middle school, one of the most wonderful things to me was that my 8th graders begged for one more chapter aloud just as much as my 3rd graders had. I loved that! I read aloud so much to my students that when I retired, my students all made me bookmarks with their favorite quotes or images from all the books I had read to them.
Need ideas? Here are some of my students favorites over the years:
The Indian in the Cupboard
Bridge to Terabithia
Because of Winn Dixie
Where the Red Fern Grows
The Book Thief
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
The Phantom Tollbooth
A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
The War That Saved My Life
Freak the Mighty
City of Ember
The Black Pearl
During this quarantine is a great time to start a reading aloud tradition in your family. Pick a book that will appeal to everyone and don’t worry if it is too advanced for younger kids, they will catch on to the story and they will learn the vocabulary through the context.
Reading to my students and my own kids is the single most important thing I did as a teacher and a mom.