Category Archives: reading

Reading Aloud: Looking Back and Contemplating What’s Ahead

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!

Family Bonding

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.


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Nature Study, Art and Music Appreciation, Read Alouds and Bible

I’ve been planning for next year while at the same time really looking more into the methods of Charlotte Mason and there’s so much that she valued that I want to be including in our school routine. We’ve done lots of reading aloud, but other than that, I wouldn’t say we’re strictly following the guidelines she suggested, even though I have loved much of what I read about how she taught children. A phrase I found myself repeating a lot was “someday we’ll do more of that type of thing….” but recently I’ve realized that now, while my children are still young and fascinated by their world, is the perfect time to introduce this stuff.

Charlotte Mason emphasized letting children be outside as much as possible and letting them learn from their surroundings so we’re going to try to do frequent nature walks. I got the perfect little bag (bought it on etsy…isn’t it cute?) that I can keep our journals, pencils and things we’ll need when we head out for some outside time. I want to be more purposeful about encouraging the kids to be observant about what they see around them. We’ll be able to easily grab our nature bag to bring along during trips to the park, walks around the neighborhood, or even just out into our backyard when we can’t spare the time to go far.



Another thing we’ll be doing next year is studying a few artists and composers. We’ll be doing several eight week studies on one artist and one composer at a time, for a total of four artists and four composers for the entire year.

I came across this great series that has tons of the greatest artists and composers. We’ll also be taking out lots of books from the library to learn as much as we can during each eight-week period.



The kids will each have an art and music notebook. We’ll study specific pieces of art from each artist and the kids will have a chance to try to do their own versions of the artwork.

I found several other fun things to add to our music section, while we enjoy listening to the music from these composers.

We have loved reading aloud this year and have completed about eight books together, so I wanted to make sure I picked out some good ones for next year. Both of the kids have been dying to know about what we’re going to read and they want to know how soon we can begin!

Here are a few of our read alouds for next year that I was able to snag from Half Price Books. There are a couple others that go along with Elliot’s Five in A Row books that I plan to borrow from the library.


We found ourselves coming across some great new words in our read alouds and occasionally Elliot would tell me a word he came across in one of his books, and I found myself looking up words all the time, so I decided we needed to keep track of these words in a journal. The kids are really excited about finding new words to add!


We’ve come across a few great ones already, just since yesterday.

I also came across some great printables on this blog recently and founds his one that will compliment our word journal nicely. I laminated it so we can reuse it with dry erase markers. We’ll choose one word from our journal each week as our “Word of the Week”.


Another thing I’d like to do much better at next year is reading to the kids from the Bible…not a children’s story Bible, not a devotional, but the Bible! Not that those other things are bad at all, but I think I’ve relied on them too much and assumed my kids can’t handle the Bible. When I was looking for what we’d use for our morning devotional time this year, God really spoke to me and convicted me that His Word was enough! From what I had read about Charlotte Mason, I knew she was also emphasized reading to your children from the Bible often and from an early age.
There was still that question in my mind of “Okay, but where do I being and how will I choose what we read each day?” and a good friend of mine pointed me in the direction of Penny Gardner’s Bible Reading Plan. She has a long list, for both the Old and New Testament, broken up into “episodes”. It’s exactly what I was looking for! I tweeked it a little bit, printed it off and laminated it. We’re going to alternate between Old and New Testament reading and check off with a dry erase marker what we’ve covered.



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One Third of the Way There!

This week Elliot completed one of the three second-grade pathway readers that he will read this year, reminding us that we’re a third of the way through our year already! In just twelve weeks he’s made even more progress in reading than I could have imagined. He and I played a game today where I tried to write out big words to see if I could stump him, and I had a really hard time coming up with anything he couldn’t easily read (words like “composition”, “determination” and the like). He would giggle with delight when he’d read it and surprise me. He’d say things like “Mom, don’t you know I can read thirteen-letter words. Maybe you need to try a fourteen-letter one to make it harder.” We’re so proud of this boy!


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Here’s Elliot reading Two Times the Fun.

Here’s Elliot reading Two Times the Fun.

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Chapter Books

We’ve been enjoying some extra special reading time lately, each day right before nap. I get the kids set up in a cozy spot on the floor and they listen to me read. Surprisingly, BOTH kids can stay focused on it and enjoy it (I didn’t realize my three year-old was capable of such a thing). Elliot has been enamored with chapter books for quite some time, so I knew he’d totally love it. He’s listened to the entire Mouse and the Motorcycle and Henry Huggins series on audio book over and over again and has decided that Beverly Cleary is his favorite author, so I decided we’d get started on the Ramona series together. We saw “Ramona and Beezus” the movie last week, so Caroline is well aware of who Ramona is and loves hearing about her crazy antics.

“Can you read just one more chapter, Mommy?”

And speaking of chapter books, this week Elliot began his very first real chapter book (real as in most of the pages do not have pictures)! I found the perfect first chapter book called Two Times the Fun (and it just so happens it’s by Beverly Cleary!). He’s so proud of himself and he really enjoys reading in it! After this we’re going to try out the Nate the Great series and see how he likes those.

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Summer Reading

My goal for summer is to keep Elliot improving on his reading skills, while still making it seem fun and different than how we typically do things during our school year. He’s really getting into “I Can Read Books”. He is reading through them so fast so I have to stay on top of keeping him supplied with them. I’ve recently noticed a big change in his excitement for reading. While he has always enjoyed it, he used to be happy to be done with his chapter and he would mention something about his brain being tired. Since beginning our summer reading, he often asks to keep reading more than I require of him. He really surprised me the other day when he wanted to keep going and going and he read for about thirty-five minutes straight! I’m so proud of him and I want him to be proud of his accomplishment, so we decided to make him a card where we can keep track of all the books he reads this summer. We’re hoping to be able to fill it up!

He’s currently reading level 2 books, but I think we will be able to move up to level 3 in the next few weeks.

We were recently able to add a lot more to our collection when Half Price Books had their 20% off sale. Once Elliot has read a book with me, he often enjoys reading it by himself again and again during quiet time, so we like having plenty that we own.

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Our Growing Book Collection

If you haven’t already noticed, our homeschool is very literature-based. We love books! Caroline has watched Elliot enjoy all these great books all year long and it’s pretty clear she’s envious. It’s so interesting how she has caught on to the specialness of Elliot’s “Five in a Row books” and knows that they are not just any ordinary books….they are especially exciting and for learning all sorts of wonderful things! So with that in mind, I wanted to create something for Caroline next year that would give her her own special books for what she’s learning. My focus with her this year is really emphasizing the sounds of the letters so that by the end of the year she will be able to start putting sounds together to read simple words. She knows all the letters already, a word to go with each one, and for a lot of them she knows the sound they make, so we’re just going to keep perfecting that skill. Each week we’ll focus on that letter/sound of the week by doing various crafts, games, and activities and of course, we’ll read a special book! I made my selection of books for each sound and over the past six months or so, I’ve been collecting them and saving them away in a bin (I have about 75% of them and will work on getting the last few throughout the year.). Each week of school I’ll surprise her with the next book and we’ll have our own special time to read it, just the two of us, several times each week. Then she gets to keep it in her own collection of books. She’s going to love it!

Here’s the complete list of books we’re using for preschool next year:

The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall

We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack

“Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze.” by Patricia Thomas

Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert

Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni

Peanut Butter and Jelly by Nadine Bernard Wescott

Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too? by Eric Carle

The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven

The Mitten by Jan Brett

The Napping House by Audrey Wood

My Very Own Octopus by Bernard Most

The Paper Princess by Elisa Kleven

The Quilt Story by Tomie Depaola

A Rainbow of my Own by Don Freeman

White Snow Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

Umbrella by Taro Yashima

Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert

The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins

Hattie and the Fox by Mem Fox

Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni

Zoo by Gail Gibbons

Acorn by Don Freeman (Long A)

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (Long E)

The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown (Long I)

Over in the Ocean by Marianne Berkes (Long O)

Unique Monique by Maria Rousaki (Long U)

Along with each one of these, I have a list of “book basket” books, either ones we already own or will get from the library, that we’ll keep out that also go with the sound of the week, so we’ll be doing a lot of reading.

And then of course I have our volume two collection for Five in a Row, with the exception of about one or two that we’re leaving out, mostly due to time constraints (As it is we’re already doing a thirty-six week school year and rowing seventeen titles!) and because there are a few out of print books that are nearly impossible to find. I’ve LOVED hunting down these books and adding them to the special shelf that is just for Five in a Row books. Some of them that were out of print were a challenge to find, but I sort of enjoyed the aspect of finding a rare treasure.

On our list for 2011-2012:

Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Swift

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Three Names by Patricia Maclachlan

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car by John Burningham

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson

All Those Secrets of the World by Jane Yolen

A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert

When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

Down, Down the Mountain by Ellis Credle

Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter

Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf

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Here’s Elliot reading his last chapter in his Pathway Reader!

Here’s Elliot reading his last chapter in his Pathway Reader!

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More Explode the Code….AH-CHOO! :-)

More Explode the Code….AH-CHOO! :-)

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Working on his last lesson of Explode the Code…

Working on his last lesson of Explode the Code…

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