Even once a child knows how to read independently, it's more important than ever for parents to continue reading aloud.
This summer, my seven-year-old son began reading chapter books on his own. It has been very exciting, as reading is the major source of entertainment in our family. Sure enough, after a couple years of practicing phonics at school, sounding out letter groups, and memorizing sight words, he finally got it. The transition seemed to happen overnight; one day he was sounding out picture books, the next day he was finishing off short chapter books, entirely on his own.
The biggest challenge now is keeping him supplied with literature, as he becomes more voracious by the week. I pick through my own collection, searching for suitable stories, and ordering books directly from the library catalogue online. Over the past few weeks, he has read Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, My Father’s Dragon, Stuart Little, an Alexander McCall Smith mystery for kids, and a half-dozen Magic Treehouse adventures.
The temptation to kick back, relax, and watch him read whatever I supply him with is very tempting, but a timely article explains why this early stage is when parents have more responsibility than ever to continue reading aloud to their kids, with an emphasis on more advanced texts.
While a child may be capable of reading such books on his or her own, in the most basic sense of sounding out words and understanding the general plot line, it’s through listening and discussing with an adult that children become truly comfortable with complex syntax, a.k.a. complicated sentences. Author and educator Doug Lemov explains:
“Complex syntax poses a massive barrier for students. They read certain sentences and cannot unwind their syntax. They grasp a few pieces, one or two ideas, but cannot put all of the pieces together.
“Hearing complex syntax read aloud builds an affinity for a different kind of vocabulary. Call it the vocabulary of syntax. As with distinctive words, so too will they be more ready to decipher complex and unusual sentence structures when, months or years later, they begin to read them on their own.”
Kids must become comfortable with more advanced writing styles in order to move beyond the fun, simplistic stories that are typically shared in school classrooms. An unfortunate yet widespread belief is that making reading easy and accessible is what will turn children into dedicated readers, but Lemov argues otherwise:
“To me, it’s only by experiencing what is truly great – which is often also difficult – that they will be sold on reading. It’s not the accessibility of books that makes converts of their readers, it’s the brilliance, the power and the greatness of them. Challenge is more engaging in the long run than pandering.”
I’ve got my work cut out for me, then. Out will come the old classics, the childhood favorites like Anne of Green Gables, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Wind in the Willows. We will continue reading aloud, stoking the fire for what I hope will become a lifetime of passion for not just any books, but really good books.