When parents ask me what they can do to improve their fourth grader's or older child's reading skills they are often surprised at the simplicity of my answer: "Please read to your child and have him or her read to you." While many of us read aloud to very young children, some may abandon the practice as youngsters reach third or fourth grade and begin to read independently. But children up to any age can benefit tremendously from shared reading sessions. Here are some compelling reasons for reading aloud to your older child.

To Increase Understanding and Enjoyment

Most parents naturally ask questions to check under standing when sharing a book for early readers, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This same skill can be used when reading aloud a more advanced book, such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, to an older child. At age 10, as at age 3, children can hear and understand words and concepts that they could not possibly read on their own. More difficult books may contain more excitement and vivid description than the books children might be able to read independently. These books expand vocabulary, increase knowledge, and develop enthusiasm for reading.

To Give Real-life Context to a Story

Talking about a story helps a child understand how what was read relates to real life. You can stop at intervals to clarify what is happening, discuss what the youngster might do in the main character's place, and ask him or her to predict what might happen next.

To Check for Mistakes

As your child reads, you can listen for hesitations and for skipped, added, or mispronounced words. You do not need to point out minor errors that do not change the meaning of what is being read, unless one type crops up repeatedly. If a larger error in meaning is made, allow the child to finish the sentence. Without prompting, children will often correct their own mistakes. If mistakes happen too often, choose an easier book.

To Share the Sheer Joy of Reading

During parallel reading, the child and the adult silently read the same piece to themselves and at their own pace. The adult determines stopping places where the two can pause, discuss, and recite favorite parts. You'll both enjoy the excitement of an unfolding story, and comprehension will improve through discussion.

An important tip: Choose high-quality literature to get started. You might also try pairing a book of fiction with a nonfiction book on the same topic. Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Harper Trophy, 1973), and Prairie Visions, by Pam Conrad (Lippincott-Raven Publishers, 1998), are a good example of a fiction-nonfiction pair. This makes for an unbeatable combination that will have your child begging for more books to read on his or her own and with a partner.