When was the last time you listened to your child read out loud? For most parents, I’d guess it was elementary school. It’s natural to assume that once kids are reading independently, they don’t need any more help from us…but that’s very commonly not true. Many, many, many students in middle school, high school, and beyond, are still surprisingly unskilled readers.
I typically ask my test prep students and my content-area (history, literature, science) students to read a passage or two out loud for me. This gives me a quick snapshot of their reading capabilities.
If kids are tripping over lots of words and stalled by big sentences with complex phrasing, their comprehension is bound to suffer. When too much attention is absorbed in wrestling with the text, there’s too little brain-space left to think about what the passage means.
And, of course, struggling like this is no fun at all! So, poor readers typically use words like “boring,” “stupid,” and “pointless” as face-saving rationalizations for the truth; They find reading difficult, confusing, frightening, and ego-flattening…and they create every excuse to avoid it.
I’ve found that the best fix for turning reluctant, struggling readers around, is to read to them.Older kids (and adults!) usually LOVE being read to, and, no, it won’t spoil them or make them lazy. On the contrary, reading aloud to an older child helps motivate them by letting them absorb and enjoy the content free from all the stumbling blocks.
In this good article, read-aloud specialist Jim Trelease lists the benefits of reading aloud to older kids (though I disagree with his “up to age 14” part; I read to 17, 18, and 21-year-olds all the time and they love it and gain from it!)
Here are seven suggestions for reading to, or with, your older child:
- Read the first chapter of a new book out loud, to spark your child’s interest and set them up for the mood, tone, structure and rhythm of the book.
- Read them their history or science textbook passages. (Many kids who struggle in these subjects would improve if they actually used their textbooks!)
- Take turns reading paragraphs or pages. If they trip over a word, pronounce it and define it (don’t make them stop and look it up in the dictionary; this breaks concentration).
- Gently and patiently explain concepts they don’t understand, and
- Keep your shock over their cluelessness to yourself. (In my experience, even top students don’t know or understand material nearly as well as we assume they do.)
- Relax and enjoy some bonding time with your older child; it’s a rare opportunity!
- I especially enjoy reading to my student athletes (even the ones who are “good students” and capable readers), who are so often wiped out with exhaustion after a full day of school and practice. Reading to them soothes them and takes some of the burden of academic stress off their shoulders.
[ photo of the original Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, Piglet and Pooh at the NY Public Library]