The benefits of reading aloud to children are numerous: higher cognitive performance, improved vocabulary, deeper empathy and understanding, wider imagination, closer bonding with parents. The list goes on. But what about older children… like tweens and teens? These kids can read on their own, so why bother reading aloud to them? Surprisingly, the benefits of reading aloud don’t diminish as children age; the benefits change and mature, just like the kids.
Offer Higher Vocabulary and Grammar
Simply put, reading aloud classic books, old books, or books above your teen’s reading level exposes him to the more complex syntax and grammar, and a wider vocabulary. A struggling reader doesn’t need to know how to sound out “trepidation” to tread through Mordor with Frodo and Sam; he can listen and you can experience it together. When your teen does come across “trepidation” in a later personal read, he won’t just be able to read it and have a vague idea of its meaning—he will have felt it on his own journey into Mordor.
Build a Family Culture
Make yours a family culture that reads together. And separately, but definitely together. Just as we travel with our loved ones to experience the living world, so too should we read with our loved ones to experience the written world. Making reading aloud a habit in your family can be sweet moments of rest and family renewal in those years of busyness with pre-teens.
Encourage Reading and Thinking About Books
The more you read, the more you will think about what you read. The characters in books will appear in your daily life. A text from a friend will remind you of a quote from that passage you read yesterday. An encounter with a work colleague will bring to mind a similar situation in the one novel last year that your 15 year old loved.
Start Hard Conversations
Books talk about hard topics. Reading through books together that delve into hard topics of life, relationships, God, society, and politics can open the door to meaningful conversations with your teen and let you both communicate in a common language with a shared background of solid literature and thoughts to help shape the conversation.
Keep Communication Open
Is your teen not much for talking about emotions, thoughts, or really… anything? Reading aloud can speak volumes for your child when face-to-face conversations are hard or your child is reluctant to communicate for various reasons.
Just as any good vacation brings back sighs, smiles, and laughter, so too can the memory of a read aloud childhood. The day you all waddled about the house after reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins, or the summer when you discovered a new author that left you all enthralled.
Share Gospel Truths
Join your pre-teen as she starts to walk the Gospel and spread her wings a bit to live a life of faith. Reading aloud those books that draw our hearts toward God creates a cord of three strands that is hard to break as your child grows in her faith and devotions.
Read Hard Books Together
Is Shakespeare intimidating for you? Have you been avoiding reading anything that sounds remotely like War and Peace? Maybe you have vague memories of attempting Charles Dickens but gave up after the first sentence that ran for two pages. Tackle those hard books together. Take turns reading aloud and share the burden and delights. Teamwork doesn’t just mean sports.
But Read Fun Books Together, Too
Not every book has to be a classic literary masterpiece. Benefits of reading aloud come whether or not you jam your reading full of Shakespeare or JK Rowling. Trade off picking books to allow your tween and teen a chance to explore their interests and share those interests with you. If you’re struggling to make reading aloud enjoyable, try some modern classics. Lightening up can be the ticket to reigniting your family’s read aloud spark.
A Reading Challenge
Try the IAHE Summer Reading Challenge this summer. The new challenge and book lists will be available in May. You and your teen could choose a few books to read aloud this summer, while your teen reads other books on their own. Enjoy building your relationship with your teen or pre-teen through reading aloud together.