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Carry on reading aloud: the benefits of sharing books with older children

‘We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves.’

Neil Gaiman

As author Neil Gaiman points out, few things are more important than reading aloud to our children. It’s great for their education and it’s fun. What could be better?

That’s lovely, but my child can read independently. Why would I need to carry on reading to them?

Reading aloud to already fluent readers can still be hugely valuable:

  • It gives them the chance to listen to books that they might not be able to read independently – books that are too long for their current level of reading stamina, books with tricky vocabulary that needs explaining or books that introduce tricky concepts that benefit from discussion with an adult.
  • Listening to an adult read also gives a model for fluent reading. It allows children to hear how a skilled reader brings the words on the page to life, using their voice to share the meaning of the text.
  • It enables booktalk – time to discuss ideas and share opinions about what you’re reading. This is great educationally, as it helps children to think deeply about a text and practise justifying their opinions, but it can also help to build the habit of reading and talking together, a wonderful end in itself.
  • It can safeguard some shared time together – time to enjoy a book that you both want to read, a book you now share in common.

Great, I’m sold. Just one problem – I want to read to my child, but they’d rather read on their own at bedtime…

Don’t worry, this is quite a common issue. You could try:

  • Let your child pick the book. It might be something that everyone is reading at school, an old favourite you’re read a hundred times before or something you wouldn’t pick yourself: another book about ponies or the biography of a footballer you’ve never heard of. Giving your child free choice of the book is a great way of building excitement about being read to, helping to form the reading aloud habit.
  • Build up the challenge level. Children often love the idea of reading something tricky or something aimed at children older than them. Ramping up the drama with lots of ‘Well, a 9-year-old wouldn’t normally listen to this book, but if you think you’re ready for it, I suppose we could try…’ or ‘I’m really not sure. Well, if you insist that I read it to you, but we can stop at any time if it’s too hard…’ can work wonders.
  • Try a bit of compromise. Perhaps you read a page to them and then they read a page to you. Or you read one chapter and then they read the next few to themselves, before you read another.
  • Listen to audiobooks. Listening to an audiobook together can work well (even better when it is played from the hallowed tablet or smart phone). This could be curled up at bedtime, but it could also be in the car or at home while you’re getting ready for school.

Where can I find good books to read aloud?

I’m sure your child will have some ideas about what they’d like to listen to. That’s a pretty good place to start. After that, your local library should be able to help with recommendations and the Oxford Owl Home site has lots of ideas for great books. But to get you started, here are some tried and tested favourites:

Please note: all book links lead to more information on Amazon.co.uk

Ages 5–7

Good Little Wolf

Nadia Shireen

My favourite ever book to read aloud. Funny, clever and, oh, what a twist at the end! Apologies for any upset it causes you (don’t worry, your child will think it’s hilarious!)

Buy on Amazon >

Going to the Volcano

Andy Stanton and Miguel Ordonez

Infectious rhymes that will have everyone joining in! And the hidden details in the pictures will have you going back again (and again and again – sorry) to follow you and your child’s favourite characters.

Buy on Amazon >

Ages 7–9

Frog and Toad books

Arnold Loebel

These wonderful short stories are perfect for children of any age. Funny and wise, Frog and Toad’s adventures will give you plenty to talk about with your child.

Buy on Amazon >

Pugs of the Frozen North

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

A colourful collection of characters set off on a joyful wacky race across the snow. Great fun to read (and lots of voices to do!).

Buy on Amazon >

Ages 9–11

Myths and Legends

retold by Antony Horowitz

Thirty-five stories from around the world, packed with humour, action and emotion.

Buy on Amazon >

Clockwork

Philip Pullman

This perfect little book weaves two exciting stories together, with observations on the nature of story telling. Pop-up boxes give information about the characters and action, too. If you don’t know this book, stop what you’re doing and immediately get reading – you can thank me later!

Buy on Amazon >

The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman

And we end where we began, with the wonderful Neil Gaiman. The Graveyard Book tells the story of Bod, an orphan who is raised in a graveyard by its kindly inhabitants. Populated with wonderful characters (with great scope for doing the voices!), humour and excitement, this is the perfect readaloud. Plus, it has one of the best openings of any book ever.

Buy on Amazon >

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