In which Brianna discusses the benefits and logistics of reading books to your child that they cannot. Includes tips for optimal execution and affiliate links to featured books.
I recently reviewed a chapter book for kids; a first for this site, where we usually stick with picture books. I did this, because Ariel and I feel it’s important to start some conversations about a different kind of story time. You probably already know that reading aloud to children helps foster a love of reading and learning, enhances their vocabulary, and is the cheapest bonding activity available to a caregiver (except snuggling). In our home, we read at least a few times a day, and always before bedtime. But what happens when your child can read on their own? Do you put away the picture books, give them a reading lamp, and close the door on bedtime stories?
To be brief, no, story time isn’t over yet.
You are probably putting the picture books away, sure, but now is not the time to quit reading aloud. In fact, now is when you double down, and cement their love of reading! Think about it. Your littles sit in your lap and pay attention to the story, even before they can read, right? You know they aren’t just admiring the pictures, because they interact with you and the story. They point out things they’re curious about, identify things you quiz them on, and laugh when something silly happens. This experience is about to get even better, because now is when you graduate to reading chapter books together.
There are, of course, beginning chapter books for beginning readers. If your child has a favorite franchise, you can pick up very simple chapter books that they can read on their own, featuring characters from Star Wars, Barbie, Disney, and other popular brands. Those are fun for independent reading, but they’re not what we want for bedtime (confession: I do use these for bedtime reading, but with my two year old! We read the whole thing in one sitting, so they don’t really serve our purposes for this article). For bedtime, we want something that’s available in hardcover (usually).
“But Brianna, those books are way above my kid’s reading level!” I implore you, please don’t get hung up on reading levels, except to use them as a personal challenge. Working in libraries, I’ve seen a lot of kids grab onto their current reading level as some sort of clue to their identity, like their name, and refuse to try anything that has been marked as more difficult. Sometimes they were excited by my book recommendations, and then disappointed when they checked the reading level and saw that it was “above them.” How sad! Besides, remember when your kid was tiny, sitting in your lap, and enjoying picture books? They couldn’t read at all then. EVERYTHING was above their reading level. So they can read now. Great. But they aren’t about to knock out War and Peace during a relaxing bubble bath, right? They still need you to help challenge them, and I’m telling you that this will be fun for you both.
Children’s literature has come SUCH a long way in the last ten and twenty years. The catalogs for this product are huge, the marketing is intense, and the content is really top notch. As a parent, it’s your job to decide which books are appropriate for your child, and that’s really key at this juncture. You see, for a lot of reasons, you might see a disconnect between how easy a book is to read, and the maturity of the content. Think about Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. We can all agree that the interest level- meaning the people who like these books and are mature enough to handle the graphic content and questionable relationship dynamics- is in the mid-teens. It’s FOR 14 year olds (ish). But the words in it are all easily understood by kids in third to fifth grade. So as you’re helping your child select a book for bedtime read aloud, you need to be skimming and assessing for appropriateness in both difficulty AND maturity.
Cam Jansen is great for independent reading, but Nancy Drew is more of a challenge to growing sleuths.
So, I’ve just done this rant/brain dump at you. You’re a practical person who wants real pointers. I’ll help you pick out good books to read together, and give you some tips for getting the most out of this time.
Tips for Read Aloud Success
I truly believe that these tips will set you up for read aloud success. Just because your child is beginning to read, doesn’t mean you have to lose stories from your evening routine. In fact, reading more challenging material now will help solidify their love of reading and learning, and give you all warm memories of being together.
How about you? Did your parents read chapter books with you as a beginning reader? What were some of your favorites to read together? I cut my teeth on things like Nancy Drew, The BFG, and My Teacher Fried My Brains, and then suddenly I was on to Lord of the Rings, Greek mythology, and Shakespeare. I actually had to circle back to young adult literature.
Ariel’s Two Cents: I second Brianna’s suggestion to push the envelope a bit with your choice of read-alouds. I read an article the other day that made a point of reminding parents and caregivers that comprehension and reading skills are NOT the same thing. Our children can absorb and understand much more complex stories before they can read them. So challenge them! How dull must it be to go from hearing pictures books’ rich stories to “See Spot. See Spot run. Run Spot! Run!” Until they can digest the stories on their own, they are relying on you to exercise their little brains. And even then don’t abandon the habit. Maybe you read a chapter they read a chapter. Who knows! You make it your own. So pick up one of your childhood favorites and get started now!
Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Definitely check out the bookmark crafts I’ve curated for you on Pinterest; there’s something there for every age, genre, and crafting level.
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Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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