Why It Is Important to Read Aloud

Recently, I rediscovered the power of reading aloud in most surprising circumstances – while attending a secondary school band camp with my daughter.

At 9 pm on a Saturday night, after a long day of rehearsing, the kids in the school band were very weary. Their teacher declared that they were entitled to some free time, adding, flippantly, that this would be followed by a story before bed!

I’m sure the teacher was joking about the bedtime story, but one kid seized on the offer and exclaimed, “Read us a story now!” Within seconds, the kids had gathered around their teacher and were gazing at him, anticipation written all over their faces.

After a moment’s consternation, because he had nothing to read, the teacher remembered that there was a free copy of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh on his iPad. He appeared doubtful that reading this classic aloud was a good idea, and I shared his misgivings. I expect that neither of us could imagine that secondary school-aged kids would sit quietly and be read to in this manner.

The teacher located the story and began to read. And you could have heard a pin drop. Despite A.A. Milne’s fussy writing style and the meandering plot development and all of the things that tell you that this book is a bit old fashioned for modern teenagers, the kids were enthralled – and so was I.

It made me realize that in today’s crowded and outcome-driven curriculum, we should make time to enjoy the amazing power of reading a great book aloud. To see how the words flow off the page and out of the reader’s mouth – like music. To read stories not for some worthy and important learning goal, but for the pure joy of sharing a story together in a way that is only possible when it is read aloud.

It made me wonder. Do teachers still read books aloud to kids for the sheer joy of it?

When was the last time you read aloud - reveling in the drama and flair of funny voices, hushed whispers and triumphant shouts as the words burst off the page - bringing the voice of the author into the classroom, and painting wonderful pictures in the listeners’ heads?

I remember a few of my all-time favorite read-alouds. Books I have read aloud many times and never get sick of – some I even know by heart now. Books that should never be crowded out of the curriculum or only used for some worthy learning purpose.

So, I’m off to read some of them aloud. But which will I choose? Will it be Dr Suess’s The Lorax or Green Eggs and Ham? Or what about Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are or Mem Fox’s Sleepy Bears or the wiz popping wonderfulness of Roald Dahl’s BFG?

Must go – I have books to read!