Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve always made it a point to read to my 10-year old son, who just finished fourth grade. I know that reading to little kids is important because it helps them build their vocabulary and more. But at this point, he’s a strong reader with a big vocabulary. Is it really necessary to read to him anymore?
A: Absolutely. Reading to your child is just as important as it ever was. In fact, it might even be more important now. More than 40 percent of children ages 5-8 are high-frequency readers, meaning they read for fun every day. As low as that number is, it gets worse. Starting at about age nine or ten (the end of fourth grade—just where you are), the percentage of high-frequency readers drops off sharply, to 29. That’s also the time when most parents stop reading to their kids.
I suggest that you keep up your reading routine until your son shoves you out the door. Aside from continuing to build vocabulary, encourage creativity, and deepen empathy, reading to your tween can help keep your relationship strong. I read to my older kids until they were in their teens. And I still read to my 10-year old now (she also reads to me). Every evening we climb onto my bed, snuggle up, and crack open our books.
The books and stories we read to each other are often wonderful triggers for all sorts of interesting discussions. Sometimes they remind me of a story that happened to me, or a news item I read about. Other times my daughter brings up something that’s happened to her that may or may not be similar to a situation one of the characters is in. Some nights, we end up spending more time talking about life than reading the words on the page. But whatever they consist of, our reading sessions are hands down, the best part of my day, and if we have to skip one for some reason, the day just doesn’t seem complete. If you keep the reading momentum up—especially during the summer when we tend to let all things academic slide—you’ll enjoy the same benefits. Here are some suggestions that may keep your son interested in reading and keep those lines of communication open.
- Let him see you and your spouse read on your own. As you might guess, when both parents are frequent readers, their children read more, too.
- Keep suggesting books. Of course, he’s getting suggestions from teachers, friends, and elsewhere. But even though he won’t admit it, he still values your recommendations most of all.
- Listen to his suggestions. There’s no reason at all why you can’t read some of the books he’s reading. In fact, plenty of books that are shelved in the Children’s or Young Adult sections of the library make excellent reading for adults.
- Broaden your horizons. Graphic novels and on-line reading are great too. For both of you.
- Shake things up once in a while. You’re both probably reading chapter books to each other. But how ‘bout going back to a one of his favorite picture books?
- Start a father-son book club (it could be just the two of you or with other boys the same age and their dads). Decide on a book, read it to yourself, and discuss it with each other. You’ll be amazed at the incredible insights young people have into plot, what motivates characters, the author’s writing style, and more.
- Enjoy every minute. Unfortunately, these times won’t last for too much longer.