Q&A Patrons ask; librarians answer. The Dangers of Reading Aloud (Reluctant Readers, part 2)

Q&A: Children's Librarians answer questions all day, every day, from children, parents, caregivers, and teachers. This is part two in our series sharing questions from patrons and answers from a children's librarian.

Illustration by Richard Scarry of bunny reading newspaperQ:  You say it's okay to read aloud to my daughter even though she's 9 years old and she thinks everyone in her class is ahead of her, BUT I'm still worried that it's becoming a crutch for her to avoid learning to read on her own. Are you sure I'm not sabotaging her work or impeding her progress by continuing to read aloud to her?

A:  Yes, I'm sure. From my experience – talking to kids, parents, and teachers for the past 18 years, and reading studies on literacy, the only potential down-side of reading aloud to your daughter is that she may do worse on spelling tests. The up-sides, on the other hand, are many:

  • She can relax and enjoy the story. (Enjoying reading is crucial. See last month’s blog entry.)
  • She can do other things while listening. Sometimes the issue with late-blooming readers is they don't want to or can't sit still long enough, or hold their eyes steady long enough to get from the top of the page to the bottom. Let her do a puzzle, play with string, squeeze a rubber ball, fold laundry, brush the dog's hair. She will develop stillness in her own time.
  • She'll understand more of what's happening in the book, especially if you read in your most dramatic voice, emphasizing the emotional content and the action. Your voice amplifies the meaning behind the words. She is more likely to become absorbed in the story.

Drawing of kids doing puzzle, listening to book

  • When there's a vocabulary word she doesn't know, or the story brings up complicated issues, she can ask you any questions she has instantly.  (Of course this applies to all genders. If you have a reticent child of any gender, feel free to start the dialogue. It's okay once in a while to ask, “Do you know what this means?”...but don't ask too often – it can be insulting. Asking “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” Can be alternated with sharing your own thoughts and experiences, so it won’t feel like a pop-quiz.)
  • She could develop a habit of talking to you about complex issues or things she doesn't understand, knowing you will discuss things without judgment. Wouldn’t it be great if she continues this habit into her teenage and adult years? The part about being non-judgmental matters; all questions are good ones. 
  • As a result of hearing books read aloud to her, she’ll be better able to participate in classroom discussions. Her enthusiasm (without the trauma of forced reading) may inspire her to speak up, and she’ll be better prepared after the thoughtful discussion you've started together.  She’ll become a part of the reading community.Drawing of dad reading to kid, who imagines adventure

Okay, but…“What if my daughter’s teacher insists that she reads on her own? What if she still worries she may be teased about not managing by herself?”  Try this: Pick out any book she wants to read, read a chapter together at home, and when she takes it to school she will re-read it on her own. Reading aloud to her in a calm, relaxed environment will help her build a rich and varied vocabulary, and keep pace with her friend's reading. 

NOTE: At any age, the effort to call up memories of stories is a great way to improve reading skills.  Even if your daughter is accused of “memorizing” chunks of text to impress her teacher or classmates, appreciate her desire to participate in class! Not everyone can pull this off – give her a high-five if she can recite pieces of the story from memory.

Don't try this at home!  - Just kidding; the whole point is to try this at home. There is no danger in reading aloud to a fellow human being, of any age. Many other things can hurt them; not this.

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