It is easy to forget that a child may be a good enough reader to read to learn, but their reading level in usually below their listening level. Listening to a good book exposes a child to more complicated sentences, plots, vocabulary and ideas than books he can read when he is young. In addition, the child has someone right there to pronounce the words correctly and explain any vocabulary or action that he doesn't understand.
In a perfect world parents would have plenty of time to read every night to their children. While it is a good routine to read 15 to 20 minutes at bedtime, some people's schedules make it difficult. Remember reading on weekends or once a week is better than never. Other adults (grandparents, aunts or uncles, good friends or even a caring babysitter) can also fill this role.
What to read? Read something your child wants to learn about. Read a story you loved as a child. Read stories that present problems you would like to talk about. Read stories that explore history or science. Read about famous people and events. Read the hardest book on a child's summer reading list (No, they won't get credit for reading it but they will have the knowledge grained by hearing it. )
Don't limit your reading to suggested read-aloud books for your child's grade level. Some children need the cushion of easy listening, and others need the challenge of more difficult books. Let the level of books grow with your child's interest and abilities. Do not be afraid to read something outside your child's interests to expand their knowledge. There are so many books -- old and new -- to read to an elementary school age child. And if both of you can't stand a book once started, get another one.
Many book lists have suggested ages listed. These are guidelines -- not requirements. I recommend below age level if your child has not had many books read to him or finds language difficult. For the child with an intense interest in a specific subject do not be afraid of reading teen or even adult books, especially for the 9 to 11 year olds. My son loved the book Skunkworks: A Personal Memoir of my Years at Lockheed . He begged his dad to read it to him and then spent a good part of 5th grade rereading the book himself. (He grew up to be a singer/songwriter who has a day job as an aerospace engineer.)
I recommend parents scan most books or check a review on the Internet. There is a continuous supply of new read aloud books. Here are some initial suggestions for oldies but goodies:
- I know children usually have listened to The Cat in the Hat, but don't overlook the more complicated Seuss books such as The Lorax, and The Butter Battle Book. Shel Silverstein's books Lafcado ,The Lion Who Shot Back (one of my favorites) and The Giving Tree (one of my son's favorites) are must reads.
- Roald Dahl's books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach delight most children.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Praire series and Farmer Boy give an introduction to life before computer games. Grasshopper Summer by Ann Turner is also of this genre.
- We tend to think of picture books as only for small children but there are many great picture books for the older child. The Wall, Pink and Say and Thank You Mr. Falker cover some topics of interest for an older child.