I’m nearing the end of Charlotte’s Web for the fourth time. I read it once as a child and I’m just about finished reading it for the third time as an adult. I read it to Cole and Meg at the same time and then a few years ago I read it to Kate and now, Molly and I are keeping company with Wilbur and Charlotte once more.
Charlotte’s Web is one of those books whose appeal is truly timeless but that’s not why I’m reading it aloud again. I’m reading it aloud again so that I can cuddle up with a child and listen to her giggle when the geese in Wilbur’s barn stutter and when the sheep get bossy. I’m reading it to her for the same reason that I read it to the others…reading aloud is good for all of us. Every single one of us…including those of us who can read aloud just fine on our own. Yes, even the teenagers.
I’ve been reading out loud to these kids of mine since before they were born. Then my Man and I read to them like crazy as they grew from babies to toddlers. Then I helped them learn to read. Then we took turns reading aloud to each other and when they were old enough, the kids stopped reading to me.
I am still reading to them almost daily.
It’s part of who we are, what we are, how we are. We’ve read all sorts of books, we’ve cried, we’ve been bored, we’ve been on the edge of our seats leaning in to the next chapters, and even this very morning we laughed until the tears crept out of the edges of our eyes. Oh yes, we have read some books and we’ve read ‘em out loud.
Years ago I read a book whose message extolled the importance of reading books out loud to my children. That book, Honey for a Child’s Heart was responsible for lighting my heart afire to reading to my kids. Its author, Gladys Hunt says,
“Children and books go together in a special way. I can’t imagine any pleasure greater than bringing to the uncluttered, supple mind of a child the delight of knowing the many rich things God has given us to enjoy. Parents have this wonderful privilege, and books are their keenest tools. Children don’t stumble onto good books by themselves, they must be introduced to the wonder of words put together in such a way that they spin out pure joy and magic.”
If Mrs. Hunt lit the read aloud fire in my heart, a talk by a man known largely for his development of a program to teach writing fanned the fire into a pure blaze. Andrew Pudewa, founder, principal speaker, and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing calls reading aloud to children of every age "the number one most important thing you can do with your children to develop reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns.” In other words, good language in results in excellent communication out. Mr. Pudewa takes reading aloud to older kids very seriously as well he should, he’s got excellent information to encourage such activity as he says,
One of the biggest mistakes we make as parents and teachers is to stop reading out loud to our children when they reach the age of reading faster independently. In doing so, not only do we deprive them of the opportunity to hear these all-important reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns, we lose the chance to read to them above their level, stretching and expanding their vocabulary, interests and understanding. We begin to lose the chance to discuss words and their nuance, idioms, cultural expressions and historical connotations. And they lose something far more valuable than even the linguistic enrichment that oral reading provides; they lose the opportunity to develop attentiveness, the chance to experience the dramatic feeling that a good reader can inject, and even the habit of asking questions about what they’ve heard.
I used to imagine reading aloud to my kids as some high-minded noble thing to be accomplished by cracking open a classic work and reading for hours on end to smiling cherubs to hung on my every word. It’s only ever happened that way in my imagination.
Often kids or reader gets fidgety, every now and then the storyline drags a bit, the phone often beeps or buzzes or attempts to draw our attention, someone has to go to the bathroom, someone else is thirsty…you get the idea, perfection doesn’t exist in this pursuit but it is a pursuit that gives you credit for making a sincere and steady effort.
Ten minutes of reading aloud is better than 2 minutes and two minutes is way better than 0 minutes. It's not too hard to agree to put off bedtime for ten minutes of reading but beware, once you get started, that 10 minutes will become more and the story will draw you in and slowly and steadily you find yourself and your listener settling into one of the most nourishing of life’s pleasures, sharing well chosen words with those whom you love.