Rarely a day goes by in this house when we do not read aloud to our kids. It was a habit that started when our oldest was brand new. I was so excited to read some of my favorite baby books, I barely waited until we were home from the hospital. Even when Brett was only a few months old, he could be distracted from crying by listening to Dr. Seuss’ The Foot Book. But the true joy of reading aloud came a few years later when we began reading chapter books to our kids. For many years we commuted 30 miles three or four times a week. This was before in-car DVD players, and since we didn’t have TV in the house, we probably would not have used one if it had been available. Instead, I read myself hoarse, projecting my voice into the back seat. Often, we would sit in the driveway for a few minutes when we got home to finish the chapter we were so interested in.
Later, we read a wonderful book encouraging reading aloud, The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. While we were already reading aloud, this book gave us names for the benefits our children were receiving. One benefit was an increased attention span. While most children are able to sit still long enough to listen to a picture book and discuss the pictures, children who have listened to longer chapter books have built up an attention span that covers hours and even days. They are able to hold characters and ideas in their mind and wait for the next installment of a story. Another benefit is the increased vocabulary that comes to children when they are read books beyond their current reading ability. Having those words in their speaking and comprehension vocabulary, they are more easily able to read them when they encounter them in a book.
Reading aloud is a homeschooling basic. So many good things come from doing such an easy, pleasurable thing. In fact, I truly believe if you read aloud and discussed what you were reading from a wide variety of fictional and non-fictional books, that you would never need to add anything else to your curriculum. Such varied reading would stimulate interest in investigation and imitation of writers, and lead to math, writing, and other skills being put to use. While I have a planned curriculum for our other subjects including math and science, reading has always proved to be the foundation of our school.
Sometimes we picked books because they went along with our current curriculum. We read aloud Around the World in 100 Years by Jean Fritz to expand our study of early explorers, Stars, Mosquitoes and Crocodiles — The American Travels of Alexander von Humboldt selected and edited by Millicent E. Selsam, as we studied about South America, and Secrets of the Nest by Joan Dunning while we studied birds. Sometimes we read fictional books to go along with our studies, such as Johnny Tremain while we studied the American Revolution, Moby Dick (yes, a very long a difficult read-aloud, not recommended) while we studied the ocean, and Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf (to an 8 year old and a 6 year old) while we studied the Far North. Usually, though, we pick books because they are classic fiction, and we read them for pleasure.
Since we have two “sets” of kids, we often have read books more than once. We read them aloud when the older two were the right age to listen, and read them aloud again when the younger two are ready for them. Often, the older ones sit in and listen to the stories now, but then they finish the books by themselves. For a special treat, we will take a short story that can be read in one sitting to the park or on a trip, and I read it to the whole family. It is easy to find collections of classic short stories at thrift stores or yard sales, and then if the book doesn’t make it back from the trip it isn’t such a tragedy.
I find that for our family, ownership is important on read-aloud books. If we can’t finish the book in the few weeks we are allowed by the library it is frustrating for everyone as we try to find another copy to borrow, or wait for it to come after we have ordered it from Abebooks. I buy books in advance of the one we are reading currently, so that we never run short of the next book to read. Usually Daddy is in the middle of one book that he reads for bedtime, and I read a different book during the day. The kids never have trouble with this until we near the end of one of the books, at which time usually only one parent reads until the book is finished.
Some of our mostly highly recommended books:
the Little Britches by Ralph Moody
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Owls in the Family and The Dog Who Would Not Be by Farley Mowat
The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame (this is a great, short read- aloud for the very youngest listeners)
Elmer and The Dragon by Ruth C. Gannett (another really great book for young listeners: short, pictures, funny!)
Right now, I am in the middle of Inkspell by Cornelia Funke. This is the second time through on this series, and we will again not read aloud Inkdeath. This is a series in which the first book is wonderful, the second is less wonderful, and I won’t recommend the third. Shandy is reading The Education of Littletree by Forrest Carter. This book was recommended by someone Shandy was working for, and the kids are really enjoying this look at a different culture here in the United States. It’s amazing how many people give book recommendations when they know you like to read.
Have you tried establishing a daily read-aloud time? The next step is expanding the stories so that they cannot be finished in one sitting, but still are very interesting. As your reading repertoire grows, you will soon find yourselves enjoying your daily time together. Enjoy it now, because kids grow up so fast! Sometimes I wish I hadn’t taught my kids to read, so that there would be more read aloud time now!
Hope you enjoy your day. Have a book recommendation? I’d love to hear it.