Can reading aloud to my 5th to 8th grader make a difference? Absolutely! Many parents think their read-aloud days are over once their children become proficient readers themselves, but that need not be the case. Reading aloud to your older child has many of the same benefits as when they were younger, both academic and personal.
Here are a few:
Their listening comprehension is much higher than their independent reading comprehension, so parents can read more sophisticated books to their kids than kids can read on their own. Because you're not only reading but also talking about the book the plot can be more complicated, for example, one with lots of flashbacks or alternating points of view. Vocabulary can be more advanced as well; though your child might not use a particular word in speech or writing, he or she is still likely to understand it, especially within the context of a read-aloud.
You can advance their comprehension by modeling fluent reading. When they were little it was fun to read “voices” right? Remember how mean you used to make the Big Bad Wolf sound? You can do the same now, especially with fiction; your child will love it and you'll be creating memories. Non-fiction, poetry, and other genres still require one to read the punctuation (e.g., if a sentence ends in a question mark it should sound like a question), read smoothly, and moderate your voice level.
You can model what to do when you’re having trouble understanding something. Do you ever reread a passage because you're not sure what you just read? I do! Even books for very young children can have challenging vocabulary; when I first read Peter Rabbit to my oldest daughter, I had no idea what “soporific” meant. How much more will the occasional puzzling word come up as you read with an older child? When that happens you can do what you normally would: If you understand the passage, you might choose to continue. If context clues help, that might be enough. But if you need to look a word up, just do it. “Soporific” was clear enough in context and my 3-year-old didn't notice or care, but later I wanted to look the word up for myself. Kids need to see that even adults aren't “perfect” readers.
You can introduce your child to new genres. Is your kid obsessed with reading one topic or genre? That's academically beneficial, but you can introduce your child to texts they might not choose for themselves. Has he read every Percy Jackson book twice? Does she only like reading about animals? Talk with your child and together choose something different. You might want to scope out the children’s and adolescent sections of the library ahead of time and bring a few home from which to choose. If you strike out, go together.
Enter your child's world through reading. You might not see the appeal of manga or other types of graphic novels, but if that's what your child likes, ask him to choose the book, be the expert, and explain things to you for a change! Children's and adolescent literature can have mature themes that as a parent you'd like to talk about but aren't sure how. Ask the children/teen librarian for books about bullying, sex, drugs, etc. You might be surprised at the conversations elicited through reading aloud that you otherwise might not have.
Introduce your kids to the wonderful world of periodicals. For some readers, a full-length book can be daunting. That doesn’t mean rewarding reading can’t take place. Take your lead from your child’s interests. Maybe there's an article about last night’s game, or one about climate change. There are also wonderful picture books intended for older kids such as those published by Dorling Kindersly that have detailed drawings, photos, and captions about multiple topics ranging from the structure of castles to dog breeds. “Coffee table” books about a particular artist or historical event are available at deep discounts at local used and regular book stores.
Most importantly, enjoy this time with your child. These academic benefits to reading to your child are wonderful, but spending time together, talking, and bonding will create warm memories to savor long after the books are put aside.
Professor Andrea Farenga, Ed.D., has been preparing teachers to empower young readers for nearly two decades.