Sentence structure, vocabulary, fluency and facility with words all derive, I believe, from being saturated in a literature-rich, language-laden environment. One of the best ways to do this is to read aloud to your child.
A common misconception is that reading aloud is just an activity to do for young children until they begin reading on their own. However, I believe that this is an activity that benefits all who participate, no matter the age.
My oldest is in college full-time, and my youngest is still in high school. Our schedules are busier than ever. But though our family’s read-aloud times are sadly few and far between now, that sacred time we spent together over their young lives provides some of the sweetest memories of our homeschool journey.
Many were the days that we decided to read “just one more chapter,” accomplishing little else than soaking in great literature and discussing it. We can laughingly pinpoint what was happening in our lives at a certain time based on the books we remember reading together. My kids still talk about the entire year we spent reading the complete Lord of the Rings series. During our read-aloud sessions, my daughter would often crochet, draw, or color, while my son would build Lego contraptions or play with Hot Wheels. It didn’t feel like school. It felt like human flourishing. Especially when what we chose to read represented the best of what children’s literature (and above!) had to offer.
Though many people believe you must read at or below the child’s reading level, it is in fact the opposite. Challenging language patterns provide food for your child’s brain! You can read aloud far above the child’s reading level. My daughter, though never diagnosed with a learning disability, struggled mightily to read on her own until well past her eighth birthday. Though we continued gently but diligently working on phonics instruction and handwriting as separate subjects, I did not allow her struggle to stunt the wide range of literature she enjoyed. Instead, I offered her beautiful thoughts in the form of great literature far exceeding her mechanical capacity. Nor did I want her to equate reading with struggle and inadequacy. She came to view books as beautiful worlds where she gained access through my voice. They were inviting, full of wonder and joy. It was a treasured time together looked upon with eagerness.
When she was five, we read the entire Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her brother, barely three years old, listened as well as his busy little body could manage, playing with his favorite toys while I read. We followed that series with the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Peter Pan, The Little White Horse, The Cricket in Times Square, the Betsy-Tacy series, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Secret Garden, Little Women, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series…each one of these special books, and so many, many more, represents a rich memory in our family’s history that is communally shared and beloved.
Not only that, but reading these treasures aloud that the children couldn’t physically read themselves offered them a wealth of beautiful language to be stored up in their fertile minds. It provided them with a working vocabulary far above what they would have been exposed to if I had chosen to relegate reading to the watered-down readers that were at their “level” of reading ability. Instead, they were gifted with the opportunity to interact with ideas far beyond what a See Jane run-type book would provide. This became quite apparent in the oral narrations they offered as we discussed what we had read. Though the physical words on the page were far beyond their capabilities, the ideas caught hold and flourished in minds eager to soak them in.
As a writing instructor of young people, it breaks my heart when I meet children who have not been introduced to the beauty of language through the rich cadences present in great literature.
“You can’t get out of a brain what isn’t there in the first place.”Andrew Pudewa, Founder, Author, and Director, Institute for Excellence in Writing
One of the most consistent problems I’ve run across in my years of working with children is the fact that non-readers have such limited means to express their ideas. This is one of the reasons that many children fear being faced with a blank piece of paper in writing class. Frustration, anxiety, and feelings of failure result. If there is one single thing that a parent can do to provide a solid foundation for the language arts, it is to read aloud.
As often as possible, but even if only for ten minutes at a time.
Even if it takes a year to get through a book.
Even if it is just one poem a day.
The benefits are well worth the investment of time. Not only will your child reap the rewards of new patterns of language, new ideas, and a newfound ability, with time and repetition, for attention, but he or she will have a memory to cherish. A memory of shared conversations. A memory of an unforgettable story. A memory of you.