When kids start reading independently or getting to that tricky tween stage, parents oftentimes stop reading with them. “They can read on their own, they don’t need me” is a popular refrain. I get it. It’s tough to build time into our busy schedules and when kids can do something for themselves, it’s tempting to scratch it off your never-ending to-do list. But parents who stop reading to their children at this point miss out on an incredible opportunity to take a peek around their kids’ heads. Plus, it’s really fun to read aloud to kids who are a little bit older.
Here are five reasons why reading to big kids is the absolute best.
1. There’s so much more variety.
Every parent of young children knows the story: something about a book grabs your kid and they want to read nothing but that book from here to eternity. The first few nights are okay. You might even be able to deal with the first week. But there comes a point when it’s pure torture.
While I have fond memories of reading Won’t You Be My Kissaroo? again and again and again to my then-preschooler, I would rather have poked my eyes out then read it once we got to night 47. By that time, we both had it memorized and it was more like reciting a nursery rhyme than reading a bedtime story.
The great thing about reading to older kids is that you’re not reading the same 20 pages over and over again, night after night. At the same time, you do get to stick with characters or plots that grab your kids and engage them. By the time my oldest daughter and I finished reading the Harry Potter series, we felt like we were a part of the Hogwarts community. We had spent every night with these characters for months and not a single moment of it was boring.
2. They’re old enough to actually ‘get’ it.
Increased levels of reading comprehension mean that kids understand layers to stories that they might not have grasped before. It’s incredible to watch their eyes light up in realization when they notice something that might have gone over their heads even a month or two before.
I’ve seen this happen with picture books just as often as with more complex chapter books. Amelia Bedelia is a good example of that. When kids are very little, they don’t understand the complexity of the situations Amelia finds herself in, although they still think it’s funny. When they get a little bit older, they can grasp why she does the things that she does and they have this wonderful ah ha! moment that simply can’t be beat.
3. You get insight into what’s going on in their lives.
Spoiler alert: When your kids start getting to that tween age, you’re going to be purposefully left out of the loop with what’s going on in their lives. As they try to assert their independence and learn and understand who they are, they really don’t want you interfering. But when you read with them, interesting nuggets start to slip out.
I can’t tell you how often one of my daughters and I have been reading something that immediately makes them launch into a story about something that happened at school that day. The book could be something as zany and out there as The Witches, as realistic as the Junie B. Jones or Fudge series, or somewhere in between like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. The end result is the same: Your child will suddenly interrupt the story to do a little storytelling about their own lives. Let them.
4. You can impart life lessons without being preachy.
If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that your older kids have no interest in worldly knowledge passed down from on high. They don’t want to know what things were like in your day. They don’t want to be told what they should and shouldn’t do. They tune out lectures on bullying and other social issues.
When you read with them, you can breach these topics like a ninja, slowly and quietly creeping into difficult conversations so that they’re talking about it before they even realize what’s happening. Topics like death, divorce, racism, and so much more can be gradually and comfortably talked out when you introduce them through a story that has nothing to do with your kids’ lives.
5. The one-on-one time is priceless.
With so many activities and distractions, it can be tough to work in solid, undistracted one-on-one time with your kids. Making reading to them a priority allows you to do that — and it brings you closer in so many ways.
You could have a kid who is suddenly not-so affectionate because they don’t think it’s cool for their friends to see them hugging or kissing mom or dad. When you read together, though, they can cuddle up next to you without a second thought.
You could also find yourself with a string of inside jokes that relate to stories you’ve read. After reading Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses, my daughter and I couldn’t help but sneak one of our favorite lines into as many conversations as we could: “Holy unanticipated occurrences!”