As a homeschooling parent, there are many things you do to make sure your child is getting the best possible education. You can research curriculum, create the perfect learning space, and search out great learning opportunities in your community. But often, reading aloud to your child slips off the to-do list. Maybe you think that once they can read to themselves, reading aloud is irrelevant. Or maybe, life just takes over and you can’t seem to find a way to schedule it in to your day. But reading aloud is one of the most important things you can do for your children – whether they are 2 or 12.
There are numerous benefits to reading aloud to your school age children. It creates an important family bond as you share favorite books together, it inspires your child’s imagination, and it builds their vocabulary as well as sense of empathy. When you read aloud to your school age child, you can choose books at a much higher reading level to share with them. Your 4th grader might not be ready for the challenge of a book like From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg by themselves, but you can read it aloud to them, and simultaneously tackle the issue of running away from home with learning about renaissance era artwork and Michelangelo. When you read a book aloud, you turn a solitary activity into a fun family activity.
If you have a reluctant reader, you can find books that you know would appeal to them, even if they aren’t able to read them on their own. My twins were late readers, one more than the other, and they will often lament that they dislike reading. The act itself feels boring to them. But I can’t tell you the number of books they will list as favorites because we read them together. They love to quote favorite stories and create art based on beloved books like The Hobbit and Watership Down. Both of those books would have seemed overwhelming if I had just handed them off to be read independently. But as a shared experience, they became instant favorites, to be reminisced about and quoted.
I find reading aloud to my children a fantastic way to teach them difficult life lessons. Dealing with a death in the family? Read aloud Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson. Bullying? Read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Want to start a dialogue about racism? Read Darby by Jonathon Scott Fuqua or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I find it’s easier for my children to grapple with difficult subject matter, like death, war, racism, and the general unfairness of life, when they can pin that subject to a well written story. Somehow, these topics become less scary when they can be found within a story read aloud to them by a person they love and trust.
Well-read children become well-read adults. They are more likely to be highly educated, good writers and great communicators. They will be more likely to pick up a book as an adult, rather than flip on the television or play on their smart phone or tablet. This next generation of children growing up in a time of amazing technology are quickly becoming addicted to screens. Reading aloud to them now is a great way to counteract all the technological “noise” and give them time to develop their imaginations away from screens.
Our lives are busy. We’re constantly running our children from activity to activity, trying to schedule our days to fit in all the lessons and projects and activities. Then we have to squeeze in time to clean the house and prepare meals. Read aloud to my 10 year old? Who has time for that!? I get it. I really do, but when something is important, we shift things around and make room for it. If you can fit in math lessons, then you can fit in time for a read aloud session. Another benefit – reading aloud with your child is a relaxing, soothing activity. It becomes a time to look forward to at the end of a harried day. Who doesn’t enjoy snuggling up with someone they love and hearing a rollicking good story?
But how do you fit reading aloud into your already busy day? First – look at your routine. I bet you have the space to fit reading aloud, even if you don’t realize it. Long ago, in the early days of my homeschool journey, I read about the idea of pegs – pegging things that you want to make happen onto events that always happen. For example – you’re going to eat meals together at least twice a day, every day. So peg a reading session to a meal – poetry with breakfast, or history at lunch. You could peg your current read aloud novel to bedtime. It doesn’t have to be one huge chunk of reading – if you tried that you would likely go hoarse! Breaking it up over the course of the day not only makes it more doable, it keeps everyone’s mind fresh. It’s difficult, especially for boys – I’ve found, to sit still and stay focused for more than 20 – 30 minutes. They start to fidget, their minds wander and before you know it, they haven’t heard a single word you’ve said. Spreading out your readings ensures that they are able to focus on their lessons.
What if you have little ones in the mix? This adds a level of difficulty, but reading aloud is still doable! When my youngest was a baby/toddler, I made sure that she took at least one good nap. This is where we squeezed in all our reading aloud. When she stopped napping, I would give her some special quiet time toys – crayons and a new coloring book, Playdoh, or some other special toy that only came out during reading time. It wasn’t perfect, and she often still interrupted the story, but we still made it work. I was often amazed at the things she absorbed, even if the story was WAY over her head. And of course, she also got her own special story time, with stacks of beautiful picture books at her level.
Reading aloud is a powerful gift we can give to our children. We are showing them that books are important, and we’re leading them into the Great Conversation. We’re giving them the gift of a literary childhood, one filled with a memorable cast of heroes and villains, fantastical creatures, and historical figures brought back to life. We’re showing them that books are powerful tools, worthy of their time and attention. What could be more important than that?
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build 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. 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