It happens in many families: sometime between first and fourth grades, a child starts to take off as an independent reader and doesn’t want anyone to read to them anymore. No more reading aloud. They’ll read by themselves, thank you very much.
For many parents, it’s the end of the road for read-alouds. While it’s sad to say goodbye to snuggle time with books, it’s inevitable for kids to grow up and want to do things themselves. Besides, parents naturally think, it’s probably better for kids to read themselves — it gives them valuable practice. For these reasons and more, it’s easy to lose the read-aloud habit.
Reading aloud helps you stay connected to your child
But I think you should resist this transition, gently but firmly.
For starters, reading aloud is one of the best ways to stay connected with your child, to open their eyes to new ideas and perspectives, and to foster conversations about important topics. In addition to being a terrific story, The Trumpet of the Swan is a natural trigger for conversations about family relationships and children’s independence. In addition to being an excellent introduction to the struggle for civil rights in America, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a great way to stimulate conversation about racial and social justice.
Books stimulate conversations that otherwise probably won’t happen. By reading aloud together all the way through elementary and middle school, you and your child will have the opportunity to encounter and process a whole range of themes about life and society together. These experiences will enrich both of your lives, and give your child more opportunities to fall in love with books.
In addition, reading aloud well past the age that children can read themselves benefits your child’s language development. Research shows that children’s listening capacity leads their reading capacity until about eighth grade. Reading aloud to an older child — from say fourth to eight grade — exposes your child to vocabulary and syntax they probably won’t encounter in their own reading. Hearing more difficult words and complex language now will make it easier for them to read and understand it themselves later.
What to do if your child does not want to be read to anymore
So don’t stop reading to your child just because they can read to themselves.
But what should you do if your child doesn’t want you to read to them anymore? Here are a few ideas:
- Bring out some food! Put some popcorn or brownies out on the table and just start reading. Your child will come for the food, and will stay for the story.
- Try reading aloud at different times in the day. For example, if you traditionally read just before bed, try a brief read-aloud right after dinner.
- If you have several children, read to them together and sometimes choose books designed to draw in the older child, the one who would otherwise choose to wander off and do their own thing.
- Some children are motivated by goals or consistency. You might suggest that you go for a streak. Can you and your child read aloud together for 100 days — or 25 weeks — straight? Let your child check off the days.
- Try audiobooks, during car rides or when you’re doing something together around the house.
- If your child still doesn’t want to join, choose a book that you think your child will like and read it aloud to your spouse or to another adult — in a place where your child can hear. See if they get drawn into the story.
Don’t worry if read-alouds fade away for a time, but don’t give up forever, either, at least not until your child is well into middle school. You’ll be rewarded by new and different opportunities to connect with your child, and help them broaden their vision as they continue the long journey toward adulthood.
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