Reading aloud has been a GAME CHANGER in our homeschool. I used to read blogs about Morning Baskets and roll my eyes. “I want to get down to business! Half my kids already read for themselves, so why would I read out loud to them?!” I would scoff. Boy was I wrong! I had no idea of the changes that would impact our homeschool once I finally gave it a try. I’ll outline the  benefits we experienced after only a 30 day trial. 

  • Connection with each other. I really thought we were reading to connect with the stories, the characters and the rich language of classical literature. And while that has been a big part of our read aloud experience, what surprised me most was how much we connected with each other. The shared experience of the story created a bond between siblings and parents that I just hadn’t considered before. It’s not just the snuggling on the couch (which is great). It’s the shared adventure and quest within the stories that draw us together. 
  • Lively dinner conversations. The excitement and drama fills the room as my kids recount to their dad the adventures we experienced through literature earlier that day. We have so much more to discuss over dinner! Characters and choices made, events and plot twists, who they most identify with from the story and on and on. 
  • Inside jokes. Just like some people quote movies, we started quoting books or referencing characters or scenes in applicable situations. Not everyone gets it, and that’s okay. But we’ve had a good chuckle over how much our middle daughter reminds us of Anne Shirley minus the red hair…
  • Expanded vocabulary. This should be an obvious one, but it wasn’t one I anticipated so quickly. We keep a thesaurus and dictionary nearby so we can accurately interpret the meanings of unfamiliar and infrequently used words. My kids seem to find it a fun challenge to apply these new vocabulary words in everyday life. We all fully agree that the 5 year old is quite precocious!
  • Love of reading. When I first started my 30 day read aloud challenge, I didn’t tell anyone. Especially the kids! If it sounds like a new requirement, they won’t do it! So I set out to read aloud and not require any personal individual reading. That’s right. I didn’t require my independent readers to do additional reading of their own. In true scientific methodology…I wanted to test my theory and see how long it would take for my resistant reader to pick up a book. 3 days. That’s right. The one that used to kick and scream and throw a hot fit (or at least grown, avoid and complain) every time I asked her to read, held out for a mere 3 days before she was picking up her own chapter book to read. My 4 year old also took an interest in learning to read all by himself and started narrating his picture books and asking me to teach him to read. All with no forcing or bribing from me. That’s a HUGE win!

Now as for the logistics of reading aloud…There are just a few guidelines I keep in mind when it comes to choosing which books and how to approach reading aloud. 

  1. Living books and rich literature. I rarely read picture books, though I suppose a few would be almost as valuable. (The Giving Tree, The Boy Who Changed the World and The Duckling Gets a Cookie are a couple of our personal favorites for the littles that make the grade.) However, we really prefer diving into longer books that span across several weeks at a pace of about 1-2 chapters per day. There are so many reasons for choosing rich literature like AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh or The Wind in the Willows over the simplified children’s storybooks. I’ll also add here that we strictly choose unabridged copies. We learned this lesson with the very first book we read aloud as a family. We had a cheap paperback abridged version of Black Beauty on the shelf, so we started there. Then, we read aloud the unabridged, original version immediately after and were astounded by the drastic difference! The story had so much more depth, detail and description. About 3 chapters in (and throughout), my 11 year old kept commenting, “That wasn’t in the other version!” and “Well that explains a lot!” The simplified version had made it so watered down we had lost a lot of the texture and emotion of the story. So now I know to check the copyright page to make sure the books we choose for read aloud are unabridged!
  2. The books should be a level or two above the children’s reading level. I want to stretch their vocabulary, attention and understanding, but I also don’t want to be so far beyond them that they feel lost. So there’s a little tension to hold. And if you have a broad age spread as I do, pick books that are in the middle range of difficulty or closer to the oldest child’s level. It also helps to select something appealing to most ages. Adventure and animals usually interest the boys. IE, Swiss Family Robinson, Pilgrim’s Progress and Gulliver’s Travels.
  3. Pause for conversation. At the end, or even in the middle of reading aloud, my kids will ask questions. I don’t get annoyed or push past the questions. These aren’t distractions; they’re the whole point. I stop to discuss the point of curiosity. I want them to explore the characters, learn new words or jump into an unschooling rabbit hole! 
  4. Keep noise to a minimum, but wiggles are totally okay! My oldest son couldn’t sit still to save his life when he was little, so I just got accustomed to legos or Rubiks cubes being a tool for listening. I’m cool with that and don’t find it too distracting. But if the sound effects become so loud that others can’t hear the story (where are my boy moms at?!), I just gently remind them to be considerate of their siblings. I don’t get loud or punish them. Ironically, my boys, even with all the fidgeting, can narrate back to me what’s happening in the story just fine. 
  5. Honor their attention span. While I’m always training for attention and stretching the focus in the littles, I don’t read for hours (ain’t nobody got time for that). Most days, it’s about 20 minutes or so. If we miss a day, I don’t double up the next. We just pick up where we left off. Some days the kids are so into the story that they beg for a second or third chapter! If we have time in our schedule for that day, I’ll totally accommodate that. The tricky part is when the 5 year old loses interest. Again, I’ll let him play quietly in the same room as long as he’s not being disruptive. Or I’ll let him go play outside or in another room if he just can’t take it anymore. It’s all about seeing where each kid is developmentally and challenging them to give just a little more attention and then let them go run! The idea is to inspire a love of learning and reading, not make it a torture aparatus!
  6. Avoid recorded audiobooks whenever possible. Now, I intentionally break this rule when we have a busy day and we’re in the car. I’ve been known to throw on Mary Poppins or Peter Pan as we drive around, running errands. However, on a typical school day, reading aloud is done by Yours Truly. I don’t delegate this one to an older child (although I could). This forces me to slow down and fully engage with the kids and the story. Nothing else is happening. The breakfast dishes can wait. The book and my kids have my full and undivided attention. And this has truly created a bonding time over beautiful literature that I can’t even fully articulate yet. I hope 20 years from now, my children recall The Secret Garden and all its treasures. 

If you’d like to read an excellent book on this topic, I highly recommend Honey for a Child’s Heart which also includes a wonderful booklist. 

What’s your favorite read aloud benefit?

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