The Very Best Things About Reading Aloud with Kids, According to Parents

by Iva-Marie Palmer

I’ll be the first to admit, there’s an element of reading aloud to my sons that is purely selfish: Snuggling up, book open before us, wholly engaged in a story — together but also apart as we each register the story with our own interpretations — is one of those parenting moments that feels like a pure win. Given that so much of raising a child can be a wonder if you’re getting it right in the moment, the unabashed certainty that reading together is good for both of us is indulgent.

During our read-alouds, I’ve gotten to revisit childhood favorites, like The Phantom Tollbooth and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, and read ones I never got to as a kid, like Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Harriet the Spy. We’ve also discovered new favorites together, including addictive picture books like The Days the Crayons Quit and middle grade adventures like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. It never hurts that, by virtue of doing a couple weird or silly voices, I become my kids’ favorite entertainer. Getting requests to “read it in your silly voice!” some nights feels like such a compliment — I imagine it must be what Broadway performers feel like when they’re asked for an encore.

Reading with my kids continues to outdo itself in terms of parental rewards, and lots of other people feel the same way. I asked a bunch of parents to share their favorite things about reading to and sharing books with their kids. Here’s what they had to say:

When reading time becomes family time…

“Being all squished together on a big, comfy couch with everyone invested in the story evokes for me the feeling of a black box theater performance with a level of intimacy that I imagine could equal an out-of-body experience. As we read, I feel like I’m watching my family grow closer together.”
—Craig, dad to Lucy, age 3, Benny, age 6, Luke, age 10, and James, age 14

“We read to both our kids from very early ages and ultimately reading on the couch together, each of us ensconced in our own book, became a treasured weekend family time activity when they were younger. Trips to the bookstore and the library were always an exciting event because it was the one thing we never put limits on — if they wanted to read it, it came home with us. As a result, they are lifelong readers who truly appreciate the gift of a good book and the quiet downtime to luxuriate and escape inside a great story.”
—Robin, mom to Ethan, age 16, and Katie, age 22

“[Reading aloud to my kids is] something I feel successful at doing. There’s a clear beginning, middle, and end vs. playing with toys, which I am a total failure at.”
—Esther, mom to Ava, age 6, and Finley, age 4

“[The best thing about reading with my kids is] they truly understand how big of a nerd I am. It humanizes me … We read Choose Your Own Adventure books for a while last year. I questioned their life choices and they learned some critical thinking. Which, of course, ultimately translates to intimate family fun time.”
—Megan, mom to Evelyn, age 12, and Ronan, age 9

When you see how much your child is learning…

“I love it when Jack and Luke bring up a story or character that we previously read months later. Like the stuff we are reading actually sticks with them.”
—Shannon, mom to Jack, age 10, and Luke, age 7

“When Joaquin asks me what a meaning of a word is. We went over the word ‘coward’ just yesterday.”
—Ericka, mom to Joaquin, age 9

“My favorite part of reading with Alexandria is how much she enjoys it. The first book that she really helped me with was Green Eggs and Ham, which is filled with sight words and rhymes so fun and easy for a beginner. The illustrations and the humor really helped bring the story to life. I think, though, that I am enjoying this stage even more now. She can read words that are new by sounding them out and is so proud of herself. I will hold the book and read the harder words and she will flip the pages and help me.”
—Eleni, mom to Alexandria, age 6

When you get to put on award-worthy performances…

“I love reading to them and doing different voices. But until recently, whenever I’d mimic a new accent, Ella would clamp her hands over my mouth and say, ‘Um, Mommy, can you use your regular voice?’ (Except with my Pout-Pout Fish, and my giant from Jack and the Beanstalk — those they insist on the character voice. Maybe those are the only good ones!)”
—Leah, mom to Ella, age 5, and Viv, age 4

“I use read-aloud time to animate and bring the story characters to life. Junie B. Jones is a household favorite and Junie is a character my Aidyn can relate to the most with her quirky personality. I find Aidyn predicting her actions and mimicking my character voice when I read and then when she reads alone. It’s truly a memorable moment…”
—Nicole, mom to Aidyn, age 8

“[My son] picked out an Old Macdonald book from the library, and I got into the habit of reading the entire thing in the voice of Norm Macdonald. We add our own little flourishes to certain favorites. At the moment in the Frozen read-along book when Hans is revealed to be a cad, we look at each other, hold a hand to our hearts and gasp dramatically. And there’s nothing better than when something cracks him up and reduces him to a puddle of giggles. There’s a scene in an Arthur book we’re reading right now where Arthur mashes up his potato puffs until they look like ‘shredded carpets.’ For reasons that are mysterious to me, this slays him every time.”
—Mary, mom to Shelby, age 3

When your child starts forming literary opinions…

“My 12-year-old is an avid reader. He now tells me what to read! On the way to sports practices, we can always talk about books. His next pick for me is Ender’s Game … and he won’t let me watch the movie until I’ve read the book!”
—Sarah, mom to Lucas, age 12

“We started reading to Arhan five months before he was born. In typical University of Chicago fashion, I read him as much of Plato’s Republic as my wife could stomach at t-minus three months. He wouldn’t sleep when he was younger until we read to him. No matter how tired. The other day, he complained that the way I read Joe Hardy wasn’t the way Joe Hardy talked in his brain, and that wanted to finish reading the book himself. Parenting is a wonderfully painful emotional process.”
—Arka, dad to Arhan, age 8

“Cleo, 2, already has an opinion about what we read each night. We usually let her pick the books, and it’s fascinating to track her development and interests based on what her favorites are at any given time. A book that was a favorite for weeks will get overlooked for another with new concepts. I’m often surprised by what she chooses. I also love that she has come to love The Berenstain Bears, and we are reading the same copies I read as a child.”
—Carole, mom to Cleo, age 2

“My son’s love of comics and graphic novels, as colorful in their language as they are in their illustrations — and a huge factor in his accelerated reading level — has taught me to embrace potty words as important story elements for keeping his age group engaged in reading. Our new rule is, you can’t say these at school but you can put them in your own stories — only if you spell them right. Malcolm wrote a glossary of potty words for himself. I fancy him a budding George Carlin.”
—Heather, mom to Malcolm, age 6

“Snuggling. And learning who Raiden is. Cars, then pirates, then Seuss, and now creepy tales for boys.”
—Akemi, mom to Raiden, age 5

When your children take the reading wheel…

“I love when she pretends to be the mommy, picks up a book and ‘reads’ it back to me using her memory. I’m constantly amazed at how much of the books she knows by heart. Reading to her is such a joy knowing that she loves the time with me as much as I love sharing these times with her.”
—Joanna, mom to Angeline, age 4

“When they start reading to you.”
—Mandy, mom to Mikey, age 10, and Tommy, age 9


What is YOUR favorite thing about reading aloud with your kids? We’d love to hear it in the comments below!