How Deep is the O.C.E.A.N.?: What to Read Aloud to Your Independent Reader
Part of what makes books so magical is their capacity to satisfy so many of our most fundamental human needs.
By Diana Black
Previously, we covered why and how you should be reading aloud to your school-aged children. Today, let’s talk about what to read to them. Remember, Mia is all about helping to empower kids through their reading choices, and this includes what they read with you as well.
One of your first questions might be, “They get to choose what to read on their own, but do I choose what I read to them?” With very few exceptions, we highly recommend that you collaborate with your child when it comes to choosing readaloud books. While they may need some convincing to give a particular book a chance, chiefly you want them to associate reading with pleasure. Therefore, their opinion should at least be solicited and factored in, if not always deferred to. Doing so conveys respect for their personhood and their agency as a reader.
Obviously and most importantly, you want to choose books your child will enjoy, but there’s more to it than that. When selecting books specifically for reading aloud, it helps to remember the handy acronym, OCEAN (with all due apologies to personality psychologists). To the best of your ability, perhaps with help from Mia, a friend in the know, or a stellar librarian, gauge the book on the following five questions before floating it as a possibility with your child:
O: …open my child’s mind to new ideas, people, places, eras, etc.?
C: …challenge them in some way or make them consider something more deeply?
E: …help them to develop empathy for others and expand their notions of what’s possible?
A: …ask more of them than books they might read on their own?
N: …help to fulfill a need for them?
If you think the answer is yes on at least one dimension, then it’s probably a good choice. Let’s dive in (with all due apologies to pun-haters – you monsters!!):
As suggested in our earlier post, take advantage of the fact that your child can comprehend more when listening than when reading on their own. What you read out loud can be more advanced and sophisticated in terms of vocabulary, plot, themes, and more. If your child can read most picture books independently, reading aloud might be the perfect way to introduce them to chapter books.
One of the key purposes of reading aloud to children of this age is broadening their minds, exposing them to new things and opening their worlds. This means prioritizing books that are diverse on multiple levels. A readaloud can also be more demanding of a child in terms of perspective-taking. Challenge them to empathize with characters who are fundamentally different from them in some way. Is the setting utterly foreign to them? Does the book take place in another era? Do the characters live in totally different socioeconomic circumstances from your family? Is the main character of a different gender than your child? Are they of a different race or ethnicity? (To understand how books can be valuable means of facilitating interracial understanding and self-esteem, we recommend checking out the work of We Need Diverse Books.) Has your child ever put themselves in the shoes of someone of different ability than themselves? Read diverse books to your child that prompt them to perspective-take, think critically, and increase their capacity for compassion.
Diversity doesn’t only apply to settings, authors, or characters – you can also use reading alound as an opportunity to expose your child to books from diverse genres. Discovering a genre they’re passionate about can ignite a lifelong love of reading. Do kids need to know the actual word “genre”? Maybe not, but understanding the names of book types like “mystery,” “horror,” “fantasy,” and “realistic fiction” comes in handy. It’s far more difficult to define or even articulate literary tastes without such vocabulary, limiting kids’ ability to make informed book choices. Remember, part of Mia’s core mission is to expand kids’ toolkits for understanding their tastes. So read books from multiple genres, taking the time to identify them with labels like “poetry,” “adventure story,” or “biography.” Your child will begin to appreciate the dazzling array of options available to them and, rather than being overwhelmed, can start to hone in on starting points for future selections.
Finally, ask yourself if the book you’re considering for a readaloud could serve to address some unmet need for your child. Will it help them process or recover from an emotionally trying time? Can it help them to feel validated? To find their courage? To navigate a complicated social situation? To see the humor in their circumstances or simply feel less alone? Remember, readalouds are the perfect time to introduce weightier themes and subject matter, capitalizing on the opportunity to talk about and unpack them with your child. That’s the kind of substantive conversation they’ll remember for years to come.
Intellectual needs are also compelling reasons to choose a readaloud: Maybe your child is hungry for more knowledge about a subject, but not quite ready to read more demanding fare independently. Part of what makes books so magical is their capacity to satisfy so many of our most fundamental human needs.
Many parents prize sharing books with our children that we loved when we were kids, and this is undoubtedly a compelling reason to consider a book for reading aloud. Your childhood favorite can be meaningful to both you and your child and give a satisfying sense of continuity. However, if your child rejects a book you’re nostalgic about, try not to take it personally. Maybe you just have different tastes.
Does your child has difficulty sustaining attention during readalouds? Please, don’t give up! Consider a graphic novel or a picture book as a potential “way in” to readalouds, or give your child more say in book selection – you may find they’re more receptive after just a few thoughtful adjustments on your part. When you engage them in discussion, you may also discover that a child who insists on walking around the room or playing with legos is actually deeply engaged with what you are reading.
Be on the lookout for Mia-recommended books for reading aloud which pass the “O.C.E.A.N.” test swimmingly–yes, another pun, which we hope isn’t salty humor–over the coming weeks. Please let us know on Facebook or Twitter what you and your children’s favorites are and send Mia your questions. She’s here to make sure you don’t feel like you’re in over your head.
Good luck, and happy readalouds!