Pearls on a String: How Reading Aloud Links Our Brains and Souls

Ginger Carlson
March 17, 2016

The poet Julius Lester says literature is a way to "link our souls like pearls on a string, bringing us together in a shared and luminous humanity."  What better way to use literature to "link our souls" than through the family read aloud?

Cuddling up for a good read is one of the most special times in the lives of a family. Yet, as our children grow as readers, and become more independent in their reading, it becomes easier and easier for us to give up our read-alouds.  But, we mustn't.  If there is one single thing that we can do to continue to help our children grow as readers and learners (even when they are already reading Chaucer's Tales independently) it is continuing to read aloud.

The Benefits of a Read Aloud

Reading aloud is perhaps the single most important thing we as parents can do to help create proficient and avid readers who devour their books and really enter the world created for them on the page.

Reading aloud:

  • helps our children know what it is to lose themselves in the drama of a story
  • develops a positive attitude toward books as a source of pleasure and information
  • increases vocabulary
  • expands the child's knowledge base
  • satisfies and heightens curiosity
  • stimulates imagination
  • stimulates understanding of language patterns
  • sharpens observation skills
  • enhances listening skills
  • promotes self-confidence and self-esteem
  • offers many new friends since book characters can become quite real
  • helps develop problem solving skills and critical thinking
  • encourages positive social interaction
  • helps them to become successful readers who love books

So how can we link our souls to help along all these wondrous happenings? Reading aloud can happen in many ways, at many times, for many different purposes. 

Begin Your Day with Reading

Take a few moments in the morning to read a shared few lines of poetry. Lay in bed in the morning with the same chapter book you fell asleep reading together the night before. Use it as a point of connection as you begin your day.

Revisit Old Favorites

Revisit books that your kids have loved or even just kind of liked in the past. Find new magic in them together. Let the stories be re-experienced and see what comes up. Revisiting books again and again can offer your readers new ways to look at a story they already know. They will see new richness in the piece when given the opportunity to hear it time and again, and may grow to have a deeper understanding of messages that lie within the text.  

Read What They Love

Support your child's interests by reading aloud non-fiction books about what really lights your kids' fires. Start with simple texts that introduce the subject they are interested in and move to more complex text. By starting simple, you will poise your children to learn more so that they can get more out of the more complex texts. Once you do move to the more complex texts (often being something they wouldn't be able to comfortably tackle on their own), you will help them increase their vocabulary and their understanding. 

Model a Love of Reading

One of the single most important habits we can help children develop in their reading is an engagement of text and love of literature. So as you are reading with your kids, go there, really get involved in the characters as they take their journey. Ask questions. Wonder about the storyline or a character's choices.

So, if I can, I would like to leave you with this, written by Strickland W. Gillian from the poem The Reading Mother:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold,
Richer than I you can never be-
I had a mother who read to me.

So grab your choice and make read aloud time special again. Turn off the lights. Get that cozy lamp going. Flop on pillows in the living room or curl up in bed together. And don't forget to try to do it every day. Even as your children become older and seemingly don't need you for that bedtime story anymore, revive your read alouds.  They can, once again, be the most special time of your day.

Need some ideas for your next family read aloud? Try these:

Poetry
Read-Aloud Poems for Young People: An Introduction to the Magic and Excitement of Poetry, edited by Glorya Hale
Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People by Kate Farrel and Kenneth Koch

Folktales, Fables, and Short Stories

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Yiddish folk tales)
The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales told by Virginia Hamilton
The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm, translated by Segal
Even A Little is Something: Stories of Nong by Tom Glass (short stories from Thailand)
The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon
The D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths retold by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire.
The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron
American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne
Aesop's Fables

Chapter Books and Short Novels

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Elmer and the Dragons by Ruth Stiles Gannett
The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Catwings (series) by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Flat Stanley (series) by Jeff Brown
Mr. Putter and Tabby (series) by Cynthia Rylant
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes

Picture Books to Share as Read Alouds

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco (anything by Patricia Polacco makes a great read aloud for older kids)
Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor
The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor
I'm in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor
The Empty Pot by Demi
The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau
Raven by Gerald McDermott (and a series of other trickster tales beautifully told and illustrated by Gerald McDermott)
The Umbrella by Jan Brett
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

Originally published in 2010. 

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