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The Power of Reading Aloud for Relationships, Part 3

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As mentors, we have glorious intentions of loving our mentees, of nurturing them, and making a positive difference. Right?

The day-to-day reality of this intention may fall short at times, though. If our students are chosen to be in Kids Hope USA because they are vulnerable, the odds may be higher that they may be somewhat emotionally wounded, or scared, or distant. Their guard may be up.

As a result, we may find ourselves working harder than we expected…just to connect…just to cultivate a friendship.

Or, even for those children who aren’t especially “relationally cautious,” it can still take several weeks or months before we feel really bonded with them and able to converse about Most Important Things.

How can we see the difference our presence is making if we can’t feel a connection with our mentee?

While the answers to that question are complex, there is one simple answer that we may have accidentally left on the shelf….

Reading a book together.

The Relational and Emotional Power of Reading Aloud

Yes, when we read aloud to our mentee, we increase the possibility of building an emotional bond with one another. Children are usually held enraptured by a good story (fiction), or by fascinating information about the world (non-fiction). When we show them that we care enough to share these stories and ideas with them, they will likely be grateful and feel valued and nurtured. A connection.

Do you have fond memories of being read aloud to by a parent, grandparent, or teacher? Co-opt that great emotional feeling for the benefit of your mentee, too!

When we read aloud a book our mentee enjoys, we create a pleasurable moment in the school day. This enjoyment may be one of the few good times they have during the day. And it’s another joyful connection we build with our mentee.

When we read aloud to our mentee, we also create shared experiences. Without even leaving the school building, we can travel to Egypt, live the life of a dog, or vanquish evil dragons! Together, we can build in these rich shared experiences, week after week, that provide endless opportunities for future conversations, jokes, and deeper connections.  

For instance, if you’ve read aloud Nikki and Deja about 2 friends who exclude a new girl from their clique, your mentee may have a lot to say if you ask her,

“Have you seen anyone try to exclude another person?
Has this ever happened to you?”

Or, if you finish reading the picture book, You Are Not Small, your student may be quick to talk when you ask,

“What are you thinking now about who is small?”

Read alouds like this, paired with timely questions, have the potential to loosen those tongues and truly get to the heart.

In addition, when we real aloud from stories, in particular, our students are more likely to develop empathy. Studies show that narratives invite us to enter into the experiences of the characters. We see the world through the eyes of these characters, broadening our understanding of how others live and feel. Isn’t empathy something we’d like to cultivate more of in our youth and society in general?

Not only that, but some stories with positive moral lessons may even encourage better moral decisions! A study of over 260 children ages 4 to 7 found that listening and discussing “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” reduced rates of lying in a lab experiment. If we can guide our mentees to develop better morality, we can chalk up yet another benefit to reading aloud!

We’ve shared recently about the power of the read aloud to benefit our mentee, including benefiting his/her achievement. But now you have another valuable set of reasons for reading aloud: when you read aloud, you’re likely to build a better relationship with your student and even build your mentee’s emotional and moral insight….

A KHUSA Mentor’s Experience with Reading Aloud

A Kids Hope USA mentor, Jolene, may have expressed the power of the read aloud the best in this way:

My mentee and I bonded through books.

My mentee was academically gifted, had a strong will and a good heart and was emotionally wary. The child loved certain games, but excitement boiled over into wildness and over-stimulation that I could see was not pleasant for the child.

So, I began to read aloud from children’s novels, and that became the activity the child wanted, for our entire session, week after week. It took us most of the year to read through a single novel.

The child’s memory astounded me–if I mistakenly picked up my reading at the wrong paragraph, that child instantly knew.

The bonding and sharing came as we discussed the novel and the choices made by characters. It felt safe, it seems, for this child to share and engage in meaningful conversation through the safety of sharing a fictional world.

Never underestimate the power of children’s literature.

Indeed, Jolene’s testimony powerfully bring this home…

….So pick up a book that you both might like and see how it may boost your relationship and his/her emotional and moral strengths!

Ready to read aloud? Select a book that’s on a topic your mentee enjoys.

If you’re unsure, one of these may tickle his/her fancy…

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