A+ Advice for Parents

Family Reading Time Is Important to Many Older Kids

Q: We've read to our kids almost nightly since infancy. The oldest, now a fourth-grader, is a good reader, but sometimes still listens in when we read to her little sister. Isn't this unusual? What does she get out of it?

A: It's not unusual at all. While fourth-graders probably won't sit still for a reading of a picture book, many would love to hear more complex books read to them, such as the "Harry Potter" series, "The Princess Bride" or "Because of Winn-Dixie."

Scholastic's recently released 2015 Kids and Family Reading Report shows that 40 percent of children ages 6 to 11 whose parents no longer read books to them at home say they wished their parents still did.

"Parents are often surprised to learn this," says Francie Alexander, chief academic officer at Scholastic.

Reading aloud offers many educational and emotional benefits to older children.

"Tweens whose parents still read aloud to them are more likely to view reading as a pleasurable activity -- something we do to relax at the end of a busy day," says Alexander. "They become more interested in books and are more likely to read for fun on their own."

Reading researcher Dr. Michael Milone touts these academic benefits.

"Reading aloud to kids stimulates language development, boosts their listening skills and models fluency and vocabulary," he says. "As students move up the grades, the vocabulary gets harder. When parents read challenging material aloud, students learn new academic and content-area words and how they are pronounced.

"For example, if you read aloud an article about weird winter weather patterns, you might find words such as 'barometric pressure,' 'cumulonimbus,' 'El Nino,' 'Fahrenheit,' 'precipitation,' 'meteorology.' These are all fourth-grade science words that are easier to learn and less threatening when a student hears them in context."

A busy parent might be thinking, "So we have to set aside time for two read-alouds? One for younger children and one for older kids?"

Not necessarily. It depends on what text you choose.

"A good story or article read with expression can attract the interest of kids of all ages and hold the adult reader, too," says Alexander. "A 6-year-old may not be able to read a news story about a dog that saved its owner, but she can follow the story line and enjoy listening along with her older sister."

There's an art to reading aloud, and "The Read-Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2006) has taught many parents how. Check out his advice on reading books you don't really want to at trelease-on-reading.com. (There's a YouTube link that offers videos that model techniques.)

Look for recommended read-aloud book lists at many library websites and on readaloudamerica.org. Literacy expert Steven Layne has compiled suggested titles and tips from K-12 teachers who read aloud daily to their classes in his book, "In Defense of Read-Aloud" (Stenhouse, 2015).

Choose age-appropriate stories by popular authors with male and female characters, strong character development, interesting plots and themes and positive messages, says Scholastic's Alexander.

"If a book isn't working, move on," she says. "While the goal is to promote literacy, the benefit is enjoyable family time together."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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