Emily Cook: The Read Aloud Lifestyle: How To Get the Most Out of Living Books
We all know knows that reading aloud to your children is important. But the mechanics of actually doing it can often times seem difficult. In this session, Emily Cook is going to talk about how to make reading aloud a priority in our homeschools and how to get the most out of reading those living books.
Leave your comments below for Emily Cook’s talk
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 15 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She is also the author of the book A Literary Education: Adapting Charlotte Mason for Modern Secular Homeschooling.
Reading aloud to your children is so important. I cannot stress that enough. It may be one of the most important things you do for them, educationally speaking. Most parents can find the time to read a picture book or two with their infants and toddlers, but once a child learns to read, that snuggly read aloud time usually ends. But, I think it’s actually more important to continue that read aloud time, well into their school years.
But my child is fully capable of reading their own books. Why should I read aloud to him?
There are a number of reasons, but I’ll list my top 5 (plus one):
5. Reading aloud creates a family bond, especially if there are siblings listening as well. Your children will fondly look back on their memories of listening to you read aloud, giggle over how you did “all the voices,” and fondly recall favorites stories heard at your knee. Just because a book is considered “children’s” literature, doesn’t mean it’s childish. Many of my favorite books are written for children! A good story is a good story, and you may find that you enjoy many great books just as much as your children (if not more!). Some of my favorite memories are of reading aloud to my children. Getting to share my favorite stories with them means I get to enjoy those books in a whole new way. I get to see their excitement when Harry learns that he is a wizard, laugh with them at the ridiculousness of Gandalf trying to sneak a dozen dwarves into Beorn’s hall, and cry with them when Wilbur loses his best friend. We can have big, juicy discussions about the unfairness of death, the realities or racism, and how media affects our lives all while snuggled together on the couch enjoying a good story.
4. Reading aloud will help to stimulate their imagination. When you read aloud, you don’t have to choose books at any particular reading level. When your daughter is still just getting comfortable with easy chapter books, you can also read aloud books far above her level. You can expose them to fantasy worlds full of talking animals, knights and battles, distant countries… the literary world is open to you! Literature is peopled with characters that your children will want to emulate and filled with places they’ll want to pretend. Poetry will fill their minds with beautiful language and spark their own creativity with words and stories. Reading fairy tales and mythology with show them how stories have evolved over time, and give them the cultural background to understanding many of the novels they will read over their lifetime.
3. Literature will expose them to difficult ideas and situations in a safe way. Life is full of hard truths, and what better way to learn of them than from a beautifully written story read to them by someone they love and trust? Charlotte’s Web shows that sometimes, a beloved friend dies, not from any terrible illness or violent act, but simply because it’s part of life. Literature will also build empathy – they’ll put themselves in the characters place, wondering how they would react in the same situation. Our world desperately needs more empathetic people. So read to your children widely, about people who live far differently from them so that they can grow into compassionate and empathetic adults who will change the world.
2. Reading aloud to your children can increase their vocabulary. Again, because you aren’t limited to choosing books within their reading level, you can expose them to a world of beautiful language. This will also help build their thinking skills – rather than interrupt the story to ask about a particular word, they’ll be more apt to use context clues to try and figure it out themselves. When you read good books together, you no longer need a separate vocabulary curriculum. If you want to go deeper, you can choose a word or two from a book every day, or just pepper your normal conversations with those words that you want them to pick up. The more they hear, the richer their vocabulary will become.
1. Reading to your children, daily, starting when they are very young, will build their attention span. A child who’s been read to his whole life will be able to concentrate and pay attention to something for far longer than a child who spends all of his time playing video games or watching television.
I want to share some of my family’s favorite read alouds:
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Nation by Terry Pratchett
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
But most importantly – reading to your children will give them a love of literature. I mourn for the children who grow up thinking Winnie the Pooh is just a brightly colored cartoon character and never get to meet Charlotte and Wilbur, Sara Crewe, Charlie Bucket and Tom Sawyer. Reading aloud will give them a respect for the written word, introduce them to the wide world and the great conversation and build their cultural literacy. It will give them a legacy of great literature to pass on to their own children.
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschooling curriculumBuild Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been a secular homeschooling parent of four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook,Twitter and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.
If you’ve been homeschooling for any amount of time, chances are you’ve heard the name Charlotte Mason. She has made quite a name for herself in the modern homeschool movement, despite the fact she lived over a hundred years ago. Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923) was a British educator who advocated for improving the quality of education for children. She promoted the idea of a “liberal education for all” not just those of a certain social class.
If you’ve ever searched for Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum or information, you probably found a variety of resources that were nearly all Christian in nature. While it may appear that the Charlotte Mason method of home education is not compatible with a secular lifestyle, I strongly disagree. Even though many of her ideas were based on Victorian era Christian ideals, her education methods can and should be used in any homeschool today – secular or not.
“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
When I first began homeschooling my eldest child several years ago, I discovered Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. I was drawn to the idea of educating with living books, so now much of what I do is based on this foundation of teaching. But it’s more than just reading beautiful literature. It’s creating a unique atmosphere of learning. Load your bookshelves with the best literature you can find. Hang beautiful, thought-provoking art work around your house. Watch history and science documentaries as well as good movies and television programs. Listen to beautiful music (which, of course, is open to interpretation). Filling my home with beauty and grand ideas is one of the best ways that I have found to inspire my children with the best ideas the world can offer. And you can too.
“The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
There are many basic tenants of the Charlotte Mason method of education that I feel you should try to incorporate into your daily homeschool routine.
Literature is the foundation of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education. Rather than studying from dry, formal textbooks, your children will be immersed in lovely prose and vivid writings from authors who care deeply about their subject matter. A living book is one that evokes emotion and draws you deeply into the story. Living books offer much for thoughtful contemplation, not just simply providing information to the reader.
The majority of Charlotte Mason websites, books, and curricula available on the market today focus on Victorian era literature. While those books are quite lovely and can be valuable resources – there have been literally thousands of books written since 1923 that beg to be explored and appreciated. These wonderful books are just as worthy of yours and your child’s time. A few suggestions such as The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman, and George vs. George: The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer are not to be missed.
Living books appeal to all ages – they aren’t childish and they don’t have to be compartmentalized by grade level. You can read them aloud to your whole family, and everyone will get something from it. In a Charlotte Mason style homeschool, replacing your uninspiring textbooks with fascinating and well written literature and non-fiction will bring your studies to life.
Copywork and Dictation
“Perfect Accomplishment.–– I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson––a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later.”
Copywork and dictation form the backbone of language arts in the Charlotte Mason method. In the beginning, copywork doubles as handwriting practice, and focuses on the neat and careful handwriting of single letters, then words and finally sentences. Once your child is comfortably writing full sentences, choose beautiful passages from the literature you are reading for them to copy. This is “killing two birds with one stone,” in that you are working on their best penmanship, but also filling your child’s thoughts with grand ideas and exposing them to examples of good writing. Consider this learning to become a good writer by osmosis. If your children are immersed in a world full of living books and lovely thoughts, they will also learn what good writing looks like and therefore, learn to write well.
When students become proficient at writing, you can begin dictation (usually around the age of 10). Dictation is similar to copywork, in that you will still choose beautiful passages of literature. But the difference is that instead of just copying the words in front of them, you will read the passage aloud for them to transcribe. This gives them the opportunity to take those passages of good literature and work on learning the mechanics of writing, such as where to place the commas, end punctuation, grammar, and spelling. This cultivates the skills of observation (they must study the passage first), listening, comprehension skills, and learning proper sentence structure.
Narration is the basis for composition in a Charlotte Mason style homeschool. It takes the place of reading comprehension quizzes, inane discussion questions and tedious book reports. Narration is simply retelling, in their own words, what they have read or heard. Children naturally want to tell us about things they saw, heard or watched, so narration is a natural extension of that. Ask your child to tell you what they remember after a reading. By telling it back to you, they will recall more clearly and for a longer period of time. It is essentially an oral composition exercise. They will have to focus their attention on the reading, then organize their thoughts and learn to express themselves clearly and coherently. To keep it interesting, narration can also take the form of creative assignments, such as creating a skit, a piece of art, or a short story – all based on the reading.
Once your child gets older and has been narrating orally for a while, begin written narrations. The method is the same, but now they put their thoughts into writing. Again, to keep it interesting and not merely writing a summary of the reading every time – they can create a character journal, write a letter to the author, conduct an interview with a character, all while developing the skills of literary analysis. Coach them early on, and watch as they naturally pickup better writing skills on their own.
“This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment,–when they ask, ‘What is it?’ and ‘What is it for?’”
In Charlotte Mason’s day, nature study was the only science students would study before high school. In Victorian times, there wasn’t much of a need for the average student to deeply study science. It was only necessary to grasp a basic understanding about the immediate world around them such as local flora and fauna. To them, keeping a nature journal was more than just a scientific study, but a piece of artwork with beautiful plants and animals hand-drawn or painted in great detail.
In our modern world, it can feel like nature study is unnecessary. Why bother, when there are more important and interesting sciences to study? But nature study has many benefits that are too important to be overlooked. By getting outside and experiencing the natural world, your child will develop observational skills, a keen sense of wonder, and a desire to deepen their scientific knowledge.
It may be easier to just stay indoors and watch a nature documentary on television, but our children also need the experience of seeing it in the real world and become a part of nature, and own the knowledge by collecting it themselves.
So how do you do it? You can get out once a week for a nature walk, learn the names of all of the plants in your neighborhood, go on a hike or walk along a nature trail once a month, visit a nature reserve or state park, choose a tree in your yard to study for a year, put out a feeder and observe the local birds, or choose a few insects to collect and study. The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie is an excellent resource to get you started.
Short and Varied Lessons
At first mention, short lessons sound somewhat fishy to most people. Considering that most children spend upwards of 6 – 8 hours of their day in school then a couple additional hours working on homework – how can short lessons be a good thing? But the idea of short lessons is such an important aspect of Charlotte Mason’s method, and if used correctly, we cannot overlook it.
“You want the child to remember? Then secure his whole attention.”
Short lessons allow you to keep your child’s attention focused. Remember back to those hour long lectures you would sit through in school – it was inevitable that your mind would wander. Charlotte Mason suggested that a better way would be to spend a powerful 20 – 30 minutes engaging your child’s mind. Rather than completing a page of 50 math problems, assign 10 and be sure your child can do them well. There is no meaningless busy work in this method of education.
Instead of watching the clock and spending an hour on math, an hour on history, and an hour on language arts – spend some time focusing your child’s whole attention on those 10 math problems. When they are done, read a chapter from your history book and add something to your timeline or label a blank outline map. Then spend some time outside in nature. Upon coming indoors, you both go off to do some independent reading for 30 minutes. Short lessons discourage dawdling and encourage your child to give their best effort. Your formal lessons can be completed by noon, and the afternoons can be filled with errands, art, or just leisurely pursuing your passions.
“The end result of a Charlotte Mason education is the children find knowledge so delightful that it becomes a pursuit and source of happiness for a lifetime.”
At first glance, Charlotte Mason’s methods of education may appear old-fashioned and overly religious. It would be easy to dismiss, but the core of the method is still very worthwhile in a modern, secular homeschool. You don’t need to follow her original reading lists, or even follow the method strictly in order to give your child the best possible education. Just fill their environment with beautiful and worthy ideas, spend time out of doors exploring the natural world and pursuing their passions. Give your child a world full of heroes and myths, things to think about and fall in love with, ideas to ponder and inspire them. That is the best education possible – one in which they see learning as a life-long pursuit and not something that must be done within the “schooling hours” each day.
*All bolded quotes are from Charlotte Mason’s writings: Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling series
_________________________________________________________________________ Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculumBuild Your Library, a literature-based K-8 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 13 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. You can follow her on Facebook,Twitter and Pinterest