The Awesome Perks of Reading Aloud to Your Middle Schooler

(I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion.)

Our leather couch is sagging in the middle.

It came into our lives when we were poor newlyweds with a 2-year old toddler and a baby-on-the-way.

One Saturday, we strolled the aisles of Sam’s Club and spotted a sturdy 4-piece leather living room set: a couch, 2 chairs, and an oversized ottoman. It was exactly what we were looking for: attractive, easy-to-clean, and durable! It just so happens that we were currently taking Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” course and we wanted to bargain for a big-ticket item. With our cash-filled envelopes on hand, my otherwise non-bargaining husband offered the store manager a deal: “I’ll pay cash if you’ll drop the price.”

The manager said, “ok.”

At Sam’s Club! (Who bargains at Sam’s Club?? Well, we did and scored!)

We brought that beautiful set home on the back of a friend’s pick-up truck and arranged it in our living room. I sat down in the middle of that firm leather couch. Our 2-year old daughter climbed up onto my lap with her favorite picture book. I read aloud Goodnight, Moon as her head bobbed in rhythm and her curls tickled my cheek.

That was 10 years ago.

Since then, we have logged hours, days, maybe even years reading on that couch. I’ve sat smack-dab in the middle (hence the sagging), and I’ve watched in amazement as that couch has filled up with children. A baby on my lap, one hanging on my leg, a few at my sides, one balancing on the back of the couch like a belly-surfer. Oh, they’ve squabbled plenty over who gets to sit where and whose book gets read first, and so on, but those hours – those many, many hours – have been some of our dearest family treasures.

Our love for reading aloud is what drew us to Sonlight curriculum in the first place. With an emphasis on historical literature, Sonlight has provided books for us to read through ancient civilizations to the civil war and beyond. Some of our favorite history read-alouds have been Across Five AprilsLittle Britchesand Justin Morgan Had a Horse.

We’ve read light-hearted books like Gooney Bird Greene and heart-wrenching books like Adoniram Judson: Bound for Burma. Each grade-level curriculum is packed with top-quality selections that appeal to all of us, that’s the beauty of a good story. We’ve been learning side-by-side on that lovely, squishy couch.

Why read aloud to older kids?

Reading aloud to middle schoolers can seem kinda odd. By 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, kids are encouraged to read independently. We want our middle schoolers to be investing in their own books and school assignments.

Not to mention, it’s *almost impossible* to find the time to read aloud to our pre-teens, and – to be honest – sometimes we wonder if they wonder if it’s “too babyish”.

Before you and your middle schooler move away from reading aloud forever, consider 3 perks that may be reason enough to invite your 12 year old to the couch when you read aloud.

Your child is still learning to read, and may learn best by listening to you read.

When I asked my 7th grade daughter, “Is it still helpful for me to read aloud to you?”

She said, “Definitely! I learn how to read! Of course I know how to read, but when I listen to you read rich, interesting books every day, I learn how to pronounce tricky vocabulary words and handle complex sentences. And I learn how to read aloud, which is actually pretty important in my world. Whenever I have to read a script at Theatre Camp, or read Scripture in Youth Group, or contribute to our co-op, I feel confident that I can do it because I see you doing it every day.”

Experts would say that she’s onto something. In fact, Andrew Pudewa instructs parents to read aloud a level or two beyond their student’s reading level to model the vocabulary and decoding skills that are necessary as the student grows.

Your child still needs to connect with you, and may thrive within the safety of a shared book.

Maybe your 11 year-old is suddenly picky, distant, and moody, but he or she still needs to connect with you every day.

Reading aloud together provides a nonthreatening way to sit side-by-side.

You can wrap your arm around your cool kid. He can hear your voice. She can feel your skin.

You can laugh at the same character. You can cry at the same tear-jerking ending.

You can consider the same universal themes, spiritual questions, and wisdom.

Stories provide a table for fellowship – like a feast that you are sharing together.

Guards are down. Hearts are open.

Your child still needs to fall in love with goodness, truth, and beauty. 

“Good books, like good friends are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.”

– Louisa May Alcott

Middle school students are learning how to navigate friendships and other social pressures. We know that these tender years will shape their relationships for years to come. That’s why we pray, offer to drive the car pool, stay up late at night chatting, and help our pre-teens establish a healthy appetite for true friends.

Similarly, our pre-teens are just beginning to establish their relationships with books, art, and thought. By reading aloud to our child, we are developing their appetite and affection for the good, true, and beautiful. In fact, we may be laying the foundation for a life-long love of good books.

For read-aloud encouragement of any age-or-stage, you’ve got to connect with Sarah MacKenzie and The Read-Aloud Revival. (In fact, be one of the first to devour her new book, The Read-Aloud Family.) Like us, you will feel so encouraged to read to your children! Sarah never makes you feel like you should be reading aloud, but she always helps you to see that you could be reading aloud and that it could be awesome.

What we’ve been reading aloud…

Lately, I’ve been gathering the 7th, 4th, and 1st grader around books from Sonlight D – we’re reading through Johnny Tremain, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, and others. (I’m all about streamlining: these early-American read-alouds compliment my 7th grader’s Sonlight 100 studies perfectly.)

Then there’s this magical time in the afternoons around 3 p.m., when you’ll find me sitting in the middle of our sagging leather couch with my 12-year old daughter – just the two of us. For 15 minutes, I read aloud from one of her Sonlight 100 books. She sits next to me, all gangly and lovely, both of us treasuring our age-old tradition of reading aloud together.

And I, of course, remember that day when she sat on my lap and her curls brushed my cheek.



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