Read aloud (reluctant reader series tip 4)

Your voice connects you to your kids.

Reluctant reader tip #4: read aloud to your family stories that matter to you.

When I was young my sister and I left one of those “you say a line, I say a line, we say a line” messages on our family’s answering machine. Our voices sounded so much alike that most people calling our home thought it was just one of us on the machine, even when we were speaking in unison! One way I see that played out today is how my babies respond to my sister’s voice, especially when they are newborns and their other senses aren’t as developed. Voices are connecting things and my babies felt a pull when they heard something they thought could be their mother’s voice.

Hearing (or seeing) another person say words out loud is part of the liturgy of life. Voices have a linking power – metaphorically, sure, but there is something about the literal voice. Hearing someone you love say words to you/for you/about you is like feeling a tug on a string to draw closer to them. When I talk with an old friend on the phone, I find myself saying, “it’s so good to hear your voice!” and meaning it so much I can’t find the right words to convey it.

What’s more, the act of presenting something to others indicates that what’s being uttered is particularly worthy of someone’s connecting voice. Whether it’s an art show, a financial report, or a moving speech, people speak because they believe others need to be pulled in closer around this Important Thing. The words that are voiced afterward (the ones that everyone gets to say about what they think and feel about this Important Thing) draw connections between the Thing and the People in new and exciting ways.

It’s no surprise then that Jim Trelease, Sarah Mackenzie, Julie Bogart, and many others emphasize the importance of read alouds. When we read somebody else’s words out loud, the masterpiece on the page and the relationship in the sound waves culminate in a kind of Joy Cloud. It settles down in your circle like a pleasant fog and sends a little tingle up your spine. It makes you want to come closer.

Let’s read out loud a lot! Big kids and adults need this even more than littles. They need space to think deeply with you. And I know you want to find out what’s on their hearts and minds. Be generous with your voice. If the “I read a page, then you read a page” system is stressing out your child, consider reading the whole thing. It all counts! It is all reading. There is something magical at work here and stalwartly prioritizing the tedium over the joy is going to lead a kid to believe that there is no magic after all. That it was an illusion the whole time.

Whether you agree with me or not, read Sarah Mackenzie’s book The Read-Aloud Family. I put off reading it for so long because I thought, “I already believe reading aloud is important. I don’t need to be convinced.” But I’m so glad I picked it up and I’ll be going back for a reread. The chapters are short, anecdotes relevant, and practical tips abound (even for seasoned Aloud Readers). She’s got book lists, too.

A quick aside: when you hear people asking for read aloud recommendations, they are always interested in chapter books. However, please don’t write off picture books for this time you spend together! Many picture books are written for an adult’s reading level and often include complex ideas that can be more readily discussed after a bite-sized story.

The books you read with your family (and especially your teens) are going to stay with them. I remember The Hiding Place from when my parents read it to us. How it gripped me, grieved me, perplexed me. What kinds of read alouds do you remember from home or school when you were growing up?

Tl;dr – read to your humans. All of them. Whenever you can.

Here are some books my kids (or students) have loved having read to them:

Books we haven’t yet read, but plan to when the kids are older:

Up next: Reluctant reader tip #5: enjoy non-fiction together. See how the non-fiction genre can excite and entice even the most reluctant kiddos.

This series originally appeared on Facebook and Instagram under the hashtag #lovereluctantreaders. If you’d like to start at the beginning of the blog series you can click here.