It may seem like only a few nights ago that you were snuggled up with your child reading, helping them turn the pages between giggles and coos of joy. Most of us think such moments are gone after our snuggler learns to read independently — but they don’t have to be!
Your child may be older now, but the reading routine you started at birth still has its benefits. A daily reading routine develops language fluency and healthy reading habits. Save the ritual, and you can help them become an even better reader than they are right now.
Here are three reasons why it’s important to keep reading to your older child at bedtime.
1. It Maintains Your Bond
By keeping their childhood bedtime routine alive, you and your child get to spend quality time together cheering for the good guys and booing the bad. Plus, you get a peek into how your child is seeing the world through the comments they make on the plot, characters, and setting of the book.
“Because you enter their world through the safe avenue of a third party — a character — you’ll have more insight than you ever would by asking, ‘So, how’s life?’” says Michelle Anthony, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Denver.
In discussing the text and your child’s interests, you might find you have opinions in common!
2. It Improves Reading Skills
As kids reach the upper-elementary grades, reading demands increase, yet one-on-one reading instruction doesn’t. Reading aloud to children builds vocabulary and essential literacy skills. Listening to someone read — especially more advanced books — allows your child to absorb complex words and sentences, which supports writing skills and reading comprehension.
For example, your child hears when you read aloud with expression, pause for punctuation, raise and lower your voice in time with the action, and speed up or slow down to indicate the degree of tension in the text.
3. It Imparts New Perspectives
Reading aloud with children, especially fourth and fifth graders, encourages them to analyze and reflect on the text, says Krista Granieri, an adjunct literacy professor in New York who also teaches elementary school special education classes.
When reading to her students, Granieri thinks out loud — making compare-and-contrast observations on the text. This helps deepen her students’ knowledge of the topic.
For example, if you’re reading a book with your child that features a dog, you might note: “A Pomeranian! Just like Aunt Elaine’s dog, Princess. But Princess is tan. I didn’t know there were ones with black fur, too.”
Besides thinking more critically than they could as toddlers, fluent readers can also appreciate the author’s craft. If your child hears good writing often enough, it develops their ear, Granieri says, and they’ll be able to replicate it in their schoolwork.
6 Tips to Establish a Read-Aloud Routine
If busy after-school schedules or homework is causing your child shut out the books, here’s what you can do to make read-aloud time something they look forward to.
1. Reintroduce Shared Reading Gradually
Start with every other day, and don’t replace independent reading. Instead, read a bit together before or after your child has read alone for a little while. This parent of a 9-year-old kept their family read-aloud by alternating nights with group reading and independent reading.
2. Take Turns Narrating
Alternate reading pages or chapters. This way, your child continues to master their fluency. Even older children can have trouble with pronunciation, especially multisyllabic words.
3. Choose Books With Companion Movies or Streaming Series
Those who gravitate toward gaming, streaming series, or movies will be excited that their favorite onscreen characters have parallel adventures on the page.
Fans of The Bad Guys movie can dip into any of the books in Aaron Blabey’s best-selling series. If weekends in your household mean movie nights, you can read Caldecott Honor artist Brian Selznick's lavishly illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret before watching Martin Scorcese’s film adaptation, Hugo.
4. Don’t Limit Reading to Bedtime
Shared reading can happen anywhere, anytime. If your child might be more interested or open to listening in the mornings or before dinner, see how reading works for you both at alternate times of day. Keeping a variety of books and reading material in the house ensures your child will find something they’ll want to read (here are other daily habits of book lovers).
5. Switch Up the Material
Sharing graphic novels, e-books, or news articles counts. Choose the topics and format that resonates most with your child.
Linda Doherty, a New York parent of an 11-year-old daughter, said that sharing a news article about Miley Cyrus’s appearance at a music awards show inspired a thoughtful conversation between parent and child.
“Reading the article together prompted a discussion about whether Miley’s performance was appropriate or not, and why,” Doherty says. That’s exactly what you want to happen when you read together with your child — open communication and lots of bonding.
6. Reread Their Favorites (Even if They’re Picture Books)
You can probably remember the days when your child would ask you to reread the same book over and over. This is still an acceptable request!
You might have concerns about sticking to your child’s reading level, but kids get something out of a book every time they read it. At the end of the day, what’s most important is that they enjoy reading.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the early years of parenting, or just looking for a good book to share, consider a beautifully wrought picture book. Everyone loves the simplicity a picture book provides — and with these timeless illustrated classics, you might find yourself transported to your early years as well!
Shop books for bedtime reading to your big kid below. You can find more books at The Scholastic Store.