As I was recently sifting through the many notes I’ve kept about homeschooling over the last two and a half years, I came across a blog post about reading aloud that I wrote quite a while ago as a guest on a friend’s homemaking blog. As I recall, when I wrote it, the kids and I were just beginning to discover the excitement of reading longer books together. This was not something I had ever really planned to do before homeschooling entered the picture. I guess I always figured that we’d read picture books together when they were little and then when they were able to read independently, I’d just turn them loose to read on their own. I don’t think that lack of enthusiasm for reading would have been very helpful for nurturing a love of books and learning in them. Praise God, homeschooling changed all that and has given me a passion for children’s literature and an excitement for reading with my kids that I never imagined. Since that blog post almost two years ago, the kids and I have continued to devour books together and I would say that it’s probably my absolute favorite thing we do together in our homeschool, and the kids would likely tell you the same thing. I’ve spent many a night staying up way too late searching and adding books to our “want to read” list and I’m not even sure I have enough years left ahead of me to read all the books I aspire to read to them, but it’s fun to think about it anyway.
The most helpful tool I’ve come across for organizing my list of reading material has been Goodreads. Not only can you browse through just about every book ever written and read reviews, but you can save all your ideas for future reading in an organized way. I highly recommend it if you are wanting to make lists of books in a variety of categories. For example, I’ve got “shelves” for just reading aloud in general, shelves for books that go along with a particular school topic (quite a few of them go with what we’ll be studying in history), and a shelf for each of the kids for books I think they’d enjoy reading, either with a parent or at some point on their own (I tend to plan up to several years ahead). Many of the books are on several of my shelves since they could fit into multiple categories and I may not have decided exactly how I want to use it yet. Here’s what’s on my general read aloud list so far, if you’re interested in getting more ideas.
And just for kicks, here is the previously mentioned blog post, written when our love of reading together was just beginning to blossom:
Discovering the Joys of Reading Aloud
The choice to homeschool was quite unexpected and spontaneous for us. We had enrolled our son in Kindergarten, but about two months prior to school starting, I got the nagging feeling that it wasn’t the right choice for our family, so we quickly changed our course, began our wonderful homeschooling journey and have never looked back. It’s especially fascinating to me to know that God had this, and all the blessings that would stem from it, planned for us long before we ever knew that this was the direction we’d go. I would need more than my own two hands to count out the ways that homeschooling has blessed our family. One of these blessings has been discovering a love for good books and reading aloud to our children. Prior to homeschooling, we did read to the kids – after all, that is what good parents are supposed to do – but I wasn’t particularly fond of it nor was I very picky about what we read as long as we did it every once in a while. I was not a big reader myself as a child, so I think that part of me was still there under the surface, viewing reading as just another task to check off the list. Once I got into researching all the homeschooling methods and philosophies, I was really struck by the importance of reading good literature to children and thus my excitement for finding good books for them was born. We chose Five in a Row, which is a fantastic literature-based program, as our core curriculum, which only deepened our love for enjoying books together. While reading well-illustrated children’s picture books is important and something we plan to do for several more years (since we plan to continue using Five in a Row), we also wanted to begin the habit of reading chapter books aloud. I just couldn’t ignore the ways it would benefit our children to include it as a regular part of homeschool.
Improved Language Skills
One of the most obvious benefits of reading aloud is improved language skills. When you read aloud to children, they are exposed to vocabulary that they might otherwise not ever hear. Because children learn most of their vocabulary through what is spoken to them at home, they are limited by the vocabulary and vernacular that their mother and father commonly use. When you expose them to a variety of books, however, their world is broadened. From personal experience, there have been a number of times when I’ve been reading to the kids and there have been words or phrases I haven’t used in years or wouldn’t ever ordinarily say, but all the sudden I am using them in context and thus the kids are learning how they are properly used.
Learning that Lasts
Another benefit is that reading aloud helps a child learn new information in a more meaningful and exciting way, as opposed to memorizing facts out of a textbook. When you learn something as you are reading a captivating story, it sticks with you because you are connecting it with something enjoyable. Reading aloud also serves as a great springboard onto an unlimited number of new topics to learn about. There have been so many times when we’ve been reading a book that touches on a topic briefly and we have decided to learn more by checking out books at the library about it. They are always things that we would have never thought to research on our own!
In addition, when you read aloud to your children, it has a unique way of bonding your family and bringing you closer together. There is a physical and emotional closeness that results from reading a great book together. It also creates long-lasting positive memories that your child will carry into adulthood. I recently heard Steve Demme (founder and creator of Math-U-See) speak on the topic of reading aloud as a family and he said that one of the things they loved most about it was that it provided their family with countless inside jokes over the years. It enhanced their family-life with so much joy and fun! I love that!
Refined Auditory Skills
Reading aloud also refines children’s auditory skills. There is currently a huge emphasis on developing visual skills in children, which is great, but auditory skills are critical as well and reading aloud is a great way to develop them. Children are given so much information through visual images to enhance their learning, but when they are read aloud to, they acquire the ability to receive information auditorily and to create their own images.
Improved Attention Span
Likewise, reading aloud also improves a child’s attention span. One of the biggest struggles children face these days is the inability to focus their attention on one thing because it’s not something they are required to do very often. They are taken from one activity to the next, all while they are simultaneously being bombarded with other distractions. It’s a skill they really have to learn and exercise. Being read to fine-tunes that skill by capturing their attention and holding onto it with the excitement of the story that’s unfolding. My three-year old daughter is an example of a child who struggles with a short attention span, however, she’s been participating in our read-alouds lately and I’ve been amazed by her ability to stay focused on what I’m saying. She demonstrated this ability the other day when I had been reading for quite a while. It was a chapter that seemed to drag on a little longer than typical and I was unsure if she was still hanging in there and paying attention. One of the characters in our book jokingly said something in old English and my daughter instantly sat straight up and looked at me with big curious eyes and said, “What does that mean?” I was quite surprised that she was so drawn into the story that she immediately recognized when the language sounded different than anything she’d ever heard before. And more importantly, she really wanted to understand what was going on. I was impressed, to say the least!
Instills a Love of Reading
One of the greatest benefits of reading aloud, in my opinion, is that it instills a love of reading. It’s unreasonable to think that just because we have taught a child to read that they will instantly have the desire to read. You have to give them a reason to want to read and that can take a lot of time and effort, but it will be worth it. I’ve been reading The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, and one thing he said really made an impression on me. “Obviously, if we are spending immense amounts of time and money in successfully teaching children to read but they in turn are choosing not to read, we can only conclude something is wrong. In concentrating exclusively on teaching the child how to read, we have forgotten to teach them to want to read.” How true that statement is! It’s so important to show children that reading can be a very enjoyable experience, otherwise they will inevitably learn to view it as an undesirable task that should be avoided.
What to Read?
So once you’ve decided that you want to begin the habit of reading aloud to your children, you may wonder how you possibly decide what books read. One idea is to simply think back to the books you enjoyed as a child. If it impacted you enough that you still remember it today, chances are it will capture your child’s interest as well. There are also plenty of great resources to give you ideas. I mentioned The Read Aloud Handbook and I highly recommend that as a good starting point. It has several lists of books that make excellent read alouds for all different age groups. You want to try to find quality books that are well-written and that will challenge your children, yet will still be exciting and interesting to them. You’ll be defeating the purpose if you only read them dull dry books that go way above their heads. Finding the right balance is the key! Also, you want to start off slowly and gradually progress. If you have not made a habit of frequently reading picture books to your children, you can’t expect them to be ready to sit through chapter books right away. And last but certainly not least, don’t forget to read to them from the Bible often. The goal is that they hear it so often coming from your mouth that it becomes second nature and is ingrained in their minds and written on their hearts. It will have more of an impact on their lives than anything else you read to them.
When to Read?
Another question people often have about reading aloud is, “How do I fit this into my busy life?” Yes, reading aloud does take time but it’s not impossible and every family should be able to find time to do it. What works for some families may not work for others. I’ve heard some homeschool mothers say they start off their school day by reading a chapter from a book, that way everyone is alert and awake. But maybe mornings are not a time when your family is alert and awake! Some choose to read at the table during lunch time while those little mouths are busy chewing so they won’t be tempted to interrupt. We choose to read in the afternoon, right before we settle down for nap time. I find that by that time my children have gotten their wiggles out and are ready to relax and listen. For some people, reading at night before bedtime works well. My husband and son have their own special reading time together at night when they can choose books that interest them but may not be of particular interest to me. In addition to reading books to your children, audiobooks are a great option. Our son listens to audiobooks in his bed almost every night after we turn off the lights. It’s something he really looks forward to and enjoys. Just remember, it’s great as additional exposure to books being read aloud, but it should not replace the experience of you, the parent, reading to your child. You also don’t want to make the mistake of assuming that once your children can read, you no longer need to read to them. Continue reading and sharing books well beyond the point when they are capable of reading on their own. Trust me, the gift of reading aloud to your children is one that you will never regret giving and it will bless your them in more ways than you will ever know!
Caroline, quickly approaching the age of five (a little too quickly for my liking), is definitely no longer that squirmy little toddler with whom I’d struggle to keep interested in the books we read. She’s a huge reading enthusiast herself these days and now has her own display shelf of her favorites.