If you’re like most parents, you have fond memories of reading to your young child. It was a cuddly time, a time to read simply for the pleasure of it, and there was a special kind of magic. Then your child started school and soon learned to read. It was exciting to see your child’s skill grow. And it was exciting to have one less thing to do as a parent! So should you even consider taking on the responsibility--once again--of reading to your tween and teen? The answer is a resounding “yes.”  And it’s true for your “typical” reader, and especially so for your  “struggling reader.” Let’s first look at why we read less to our young children as they are learning to read. The answer is simple: Kids are developing skills as readers, and so they need to practice. (Plus, it’s nice to free up that tiny bit of time for ourselves!)  By about fourth grade, typical readers have developed the core skills they need to become proficient readers, providing they continue to read regularly and widely. And that’s where the trouble starts. That’s because right around fourth grade, kids social circles begin to develop more fully. With each successive year, their friends become a much more compelling part of their daily lives. As a result, many kids naturally move away from reading for pleasure. This continues as kids move from their tweens and into the teens. Also, because of the constant lure of electronic devices, there’s even less time devoted to reading for pleasure.  Kids end up reading because they “have to” for school. The idea of reading for pleasure becomes, well, less than pleasurable for many kids. So they read less, and their skills stagnate. What about kids who have never read for pleasure? These kids, our “struggling readers,” were never able to build their reading skills to a “typical” level, so they have read less than their peers. This is a huge disadvantage. When you add in the loss of reading aloud, there are additional consequences for our struggling readers. They:
  • lose the chance to hear what good, fluent reading sounds like
  • have less opportunity to the build the vocabulary and background knowledge that they need to have a fighting chance to grow as readers.
What is the answer? NurturingLiteracy Kids need to keep feeling the pleasure that can come from reading. When we read aloud to our children, we give them the chance to experience reading as enjoyable. We rekindle that special kind of magic that happens during shared reading. We let reading again be a part of our day. Ultimately, we get back on the path to nurturing a life-long love of reading. What’s a Parent to Do? Make a promise to yourself to find some time to read aloud to your tween or teen. Ten minutes, five...even two will do for a start! Pick something to read:
  • an interesting scene from a novel you’re reading
  • an article about the school’s hockey team
  • the lyrics from a popular song.
Anything at all will do! Share the words on the page, and share your thinking...just for the pleasure of it. What About My Struggling Reader? TWA iPad SPEECH screen shotIf your child is a struggling reader, read aloud with him for pleasure, just as described above. Then, to encourage independent reading, let technology take over! “Text-to-speech” is a perfect support. Here are three ideas to get you started. One excellent option may already be within your reach. The iPad has a “speech” function that will read the content of the screen to your child. It offers some options for customization, including selecting the voice and adjusting the speaking rate. You will find this in “Settings.” Go to:
  • “General”
  • “Accessibility”
  • “Speech”
This feature will work well for many children. TWA Natural ReaderAnother option can be found at There is a free version that you can download for either Mac or Windows platforms. App versions are available if you upgrade ($69.95 for “Personal” usage).  A real benefit of NaturalReader is that it has OCR functionality, which means it will read most files, including PDFs, scanned documents, and ebooks. However, the number of documents you can have is limited to 30. TWA Voice Dream ReaderA third option, widely considered to be the “Cadillac” of text readers, is the Voice Dream Reader app. It’s available at the app store for $14.99. It has many bells and whistles, including one “acapella” voice choice. It will read documents like PDFs, Word docs, and Google docs. One important note, however, is that it is not possible to load DRM protected ebooks--essentially all books purchased from iBooks, Kindle, Google Play Books, Nook and most commercial publishers have DRM. Despite this limitation,  Voice Dream Reader may still be worth the investment for a few reasons:
  1. The app offers “synchronized highlighting.” This means that the text is highlighted as it read. The user is seeing it and hearing it simultaneously. For many struggling readers, using two senses is better than using one.
  2. Text can be adjusted. It can be made larger, or the lines can be made more spaced apart. This can help reduce the visual fatigue that some struggling readers experience.
  3. The reader can annotate the text as it is read. This encourages more active reading and makes study/review easier.
So gather your tweens and teens, and Read Aloud and be proud! And if you have a struggling reader, let text readers work their special magic and help make reading for pleasure a reality.   AAEAAQAAAAAAAActAAAAJDUwNjllOGQ0LTlmOGQtNDBjNi1hMTNiLTUwZmUzZTJmM2Y3ZATara A. Clancy, M.A. Tara, an expert in literacy remediation, is the founder of She blogs about struggling readers from a whole-child perspective.
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  1. […] Should we still read aloud to our tweens and teens? Yes! And for struggling readers, there are great text-to-speech apps to help with independent reading as well. Find out about three of these tech hacks, including the “Cadillac” of text-to-speech apps in my guest post at Teachers With Apps. […]