Reading with our kids may be even better for them than we all realized, according to Sarah Mackenzie. Ms. Mackenzie runs the wildly popular Read-Aloud Revival podcast. Recently she spoke with me on the phone about her new book, The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids, which comes out on March 27. Speaking with her was easily one of the most fun things I’ve done this year. Here are some of the highlights from our interview about her book and the benefits of reading out loud to your kids.
Connecting with Kids Through Reading
Lynne: How long have you been working on the book?
Sarah Mackenzie: The better part of six or seven years. . . . . It was such an interesting experience, because about halfway into the project, I realized that I thought I was writing a book on reading aloud. And I kind of am. But then I realized actually, I think what I’m writing a book about is how to connect with our kids. When we really think about as parents what the deepest longing is with our kids, we want to make this meaningful, really strong connection and relationship with them while we still have them at home. And I realized the reading out loud gives us all these other benefits. But the real benefit, the big kicker, is that it connects us in this really meaningful way. So I realized, oh, I think this book is actually about connecting with our kids. And reading aloud is the way we do that, rather than the book being about reading out loud.
Benefits of Reading Aloud
Lynne: I read the first chapter online. In it you argue that reading aloud provides even more benefits than a private tutor. Can you tell us a little about that?
Sarah Mackenzie: So I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. He has a lot of research in there. And one of the things he mentioned in the book is that academically speaking. . . . parents who read aloud to their kids on a regular basis give their kids more of an academic boost than any other activity you can think of, whether that be tutoring or private school education. . . . It’s free. And we can do it at home. And we can do it in very small chunks of time. Yet it has a profound impact.
Lynne: What are some ways that you’ve seen those connections between parents and children start to build in your own family with reading out loud?
Sarah Mackenzie: I heard Andrew Pudewa, from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, talk about how much of an impact reading aloud to kids who are old enough to read to themselves has on their vocabulary and their ability to become good communicators. So I started reading out loud a lot more. And all of those things came true. They started using really great vocabulary. And their reading comprehension improved, and their writing ability improved. And all of the things that were promised kind of on the academic perspective I saw. But what I didn’t anticipate was that we would have this newfound kind of inside joke, like a secret code.
What would happen is that we’d be going on a family hike, and the kids would see a big rock that was covered in moss. And we had recently read Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock and they started acting it out. . . . I don’t know if you’re familiar with Kate Di Camillo’s Mercy Watson series–
Lynne: Yes, they’re wonderful.
Sarah Mackenzie: They’re so funny. There’s that one character who says, “Fascinating, simply fascinating,” because he’s so smitten with the animal control officer. So now whenever anyone says “fascinating” in the course of conversation, someone in the family will turn on their nerdy voice and say, “Fascinating, simply fascinating.” And everyone busts out laughing. . . . It ended up being the primary way that we connect and have those inside jokes.
My hope is that of course when my kids are grown and they’re at college and they’re having a hard time or they’re grown up and they’re going through a hard time and somebody says something is fascinating, it will make them laugh and kind of remember who they are. You know it’s just that one little peg that will go, “That’s right. This is who we are. And I have this family that’s rooting for me.” I think it can have the potential to really be something that follows our kids well into their adult life.
Reading to Reset Your Day
Lynne: I’ve started reading to my older kids because of your podcast and it has been interesting. I’ve noticed that it gives us a time to reset. So just in the short time at the end of the day after the chores and everything, we do something that we all think is really fun.
Sarah Mackenzie: I know that for a while I was having a hard time getting my kids out of bed. And at the time I was pregnant. So I was having a hard time getting out of bed. And I realized that if we started our school day with about fifteen minutes of reading aloud, and we wouldn’t even have breakfast or get dressed first, everyone would come out and get some tea or hot chocolate or whatever, sit on the couch. And we’d read out loud. It was a much nicer entry to our day. Like you said, it’s a reset. Especially if you’ve had some fraught moments over grammar or math, or any kind of disciplinary issue. It can be a nice way to connect that doesn’t take a whole lot of gumption. Because all you really have to do is open this book and start reading and then the magic kind of happens on its own.
Click here for more about Sarah Mackenzie, her book, or her podcast.
Watch for the next post in the series. Sarah Mackenzie shares practical suggestions to start reading out loud.