Let Them Listen

When was the last time you chose to do something you’re not good at and that makes you feel dumb? (If you can’t think of anything that makes you feel dumb and crummy when you try it, maybe you haven’t tried anything new in awhile.)

It’s humbling to remember what that feels like, and then to connect that to how our children may feel in certain situations, whether it’s trying a new sport, starting a new school year with harder classes, or picking up a book to read.

I’ve talked with a lot of parents lately who are concerned about their children’s reading habits. The problem I hear most often is the child is struggling, maybe behind, and therefore doesn’t enjoy reading. It makes perfect sense when you think about that feeling. Do you ever choose to do something you stink at? Maybe grudgingly, maybe only when forced.

This is why I always recommend:

  1. Reviving the practice of you reading aloud to your child. Doesn’t matter how old! Jim Trelease says to read to your teenagers as they do chores (like loading the dishwasher after dinner). Maybe you’ve slacked off lately even with your younger kids. That’s okay! Pick it back up as often as you can. I’ve heard from a lot of parents lately who have read aloud The BFG, by Roald Dahl, with their kids, and then gone to see the movie together. Recently the Scholastic Reading-Aloud at Home report showed that parents often stop reading aloud to children about age 9, and also that children at this age and older wish their parents would still read aloud to them. (Quote below comes from this study.)

    read aloud quote
    This makes me want to weep.
  2. Letting your kids listen to audiobooks. Grab a hard copy of the book as well, if available, and ask them to follow along with the book as they listen, when it’s convenient. We love the easy-to-use Playaway audio books at our library. They only require 1 AAA battery and a pair of headphones.

When kids listen, they are getting to hear great books that they might otherwise not be able to read on their own. They’re hearing what a fluent reader sounds like. If they’re following along in their own books, they are seeing words they don’t know and hearing them read aloud in context. They’re realizing that if they improve at reading, these are the types of great books they’ll be able to read on their own. This is good, good stuff for kids. Even if–especially if!–they “hate reading,” listening to books can give them positive, enjoyable experiences with text! This can be the seed for creating a lifelong reader!

The first book in the series is by Rick Riordan, but the series includes many different popular kids' book authors
The first book in the series is by Rick Riordan, but each book in the series is written by a different author.

A couple years ago, I listened to The 39 Clues series on Playaway, and I actually completed the series out of laziness. It was easier to just get the next 39 Clues Playaway than try to decide on a different book to listen to. This is the beauty of series for reluctant or struggling readers–if they get into a series, it becomes that much easier to just pick up the next book in that series and keep reading. No new characters to learn, and they know generally what to expect from the plot line.

A couple weeks ago, right before a road trip, I got my 8-year old hooked on the series. I grabbed the first couple from the library, thinking he would enjoy them. Victory! He finished listening to books 1 and 2 before we even finished our 13-hour trip. He’s now into book 6.

seth audio
Seth with his 39 Clues Playaway

I listen to audiobooks as I work out and anytime I have a lot of driving to do. Sometimes I feel like I need to read a certain book but don’t want to, so I get the audio. I’m more willing to listen than open the book, for some reason. If your child has to read certain books this summer or fall and is very reluctant, try to hunt down the audio and let him/her ease into it with that.

I listened to this one on audio years ago, and it's still one of my favorites
I listened to this one on audio years ago, and it’s still one of my favorites

So much of my advice to parents regarding their children’s reading is so simple: Think about what you, as an adult, give yourself as a reader, and try to extend those privileges to your child. Think about things you give yourself: a comfortable, quiet place to read; choice of reading material (including magazines, online articles, etc.); social interaction over books (calling a friend, book club, etc.). On the flip side, do you pressure yourself to finish every single book you start, even if you hate it (please say no)? Do you make yourself do a book report or take a test on every book you read? Can you see how sometimes we as parents and teachers can make reading an inauthentic, painful experience through these means?

What else do you give yourself as a reader, and how can you extend those privileges to your children? Read on!


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