Ah, reading aloud.
Cozy blankets, some squabbling to find the right spot, rainy days and a book – the longer, the better. How inviting, right? Especially now that it is fall – if summer will ever accept that! Everyone – okay, maybe almost everyone – reads aloud.
Whether verbally acknowledged or not there are rules all homeschoolers use to pick their next read aloud book.
Either they eschew what Charlotte Mason referred to as twaddle, or they stick to a list recommended by a particular person or a group that they admire to find good books or they undertake the great and wonderful task of researching and digging through Facebook groups, online encyclopedia and asking friends and family. Sometimes, they even go (gasp!) through boxed curricula lists.
I have written before about reading aloud and how we got a bit of a late start on it. I am happy to say that as of today I consider nothing else more important. Although we tend to favor read alouds of the fantasy genre more than others, I have nevertheless developed some “rules” around which I base our reading.
Here they are.
Read Aloud Rule #1: I pick what I want to read
Homeschooling parents are some of the most resourceful people I have ever met. When we stop by our public library – something we do almost every week – I can almost always tell when a homeschooler has visited before me by the number of good books I can find sitting next to each other. That said, I will add that sadly I can also tell when someone is following a boxed curriculum.
Not all boxed curricula are created equal, of course, some like Sonlight have excellent books which I am delighted to find. However, I don’t insist that we read all of them for the simple reason that I don’t like them.
I will no longer pick books based on the idea that they are great works of literature, that everyone else is reading them, that they are in this list or that one or that there is a connection with something else we are currently studying in a different subject.
Reading aloud for introverted, taciturn me takes a lot of time and effort. As such, I want to make the most of it for all of us. Reading a book that I hate makes the entire process so tedious that I am likely to avoid it. And the children sense it as well.
They catch my boredom and begin getting listless, or worse, fidgety. And pretty soon, what should be an enjoyable activity that brings us together, helps us share a world, increases comprehension and develops language devolves into an unrewarding, unfulfilling task. After learning that lesson from trudging through a particularly boring book or two, my read aloud rule #1 states that I will read a book aloud only if it’s something I am personally interested in. I will no longer pick books based on the idea that they are great works of literature, that everyone else is reading them, that they are in this list or that one or that there is a connection with something else we are currently studying in a different subject.
In other words, if I am not going to enjoy reading them, out they go. They’ll just have to wait until my kids are older and can read them on their own.
Read Aloud Rule #2: I don’t stick to grade levels
The first book we read that we all thoroughly enjoyed and still talk about to this day was The Hobbit. My older two children were 6 and 5 at the time. I am still amazed when I write that they understood and appreciated what we read. Sure, I paraphrased and of course some themes that we explored needed a little grappling with to be understood. It wasn’t easy, but it was immensely rewarding.
The vision of the world we came away with was more than what was contained in the plot, the characters or the fantasy in the book itself. The vision we came away with that settled itself into the recesses of our minds was that of freedom. Because it was the freedom to be able to look at something and discuss it, regardless of the time of day, the age of the person talking or the issue we were mulling over.
It was reading aloud that I finally believed that my children had the ability to surprise me, surpass me and no boxed curriculum or boxed in classroom would ever take that away from us.
Nothing was out of reach; nothing was “too mature,” nothing that they would only understand when they grew up. Sure, they probably did not fully comprehend certain nuances, but do we ever capture every nuance in every book? However, I discovered the true strength and beauty of homeschooling in reading aloud. It was here that I finally believed that my children had the ability to surprise me, surpass me and no boxed curriculum or boxed in classroom would ever take that away from us.
By the same token, I will also read good picture books to my older children. Sometimes, the youngest wants a picture book and the olders will come and hang out and enjoy it as well and expressly ask for one the next time. And I have already written about my love for graphic novels, which I will not read aloud, but my daughter will!
Read Aloud Rule #3: Kids don’t have to sit still
When reading aloud, silence is necessary. However, sitting stock still is not. I read tons of blogs before I started homeschooling and made the mistake of trying to incorporate the practice of getting my children to sit still as recommended by some of them. One particularly annoying post suggested that getting children to sit still while reading aloud made it easier for them to sit in other situations like classrooms, restaurants, church and so on. Great, I thought, extend their time of sitting still so that they can sit still.
Sitting still might be required in classrooms where the teachers have to deal with multiple students, but it is an unnecessary burden to place on yourself as a homeschooling parent. I abandoned that practice very early on.
My children find themselves in all kinds of positions while I’m reading to them. Some will hang upside down, some will listen lying down. My daughter prefers to sit up and listen, but that’s just her personality. I will sometimes catch my kids at breakfast or lunch and read to them. Some days, very rarely, we do sit still and read with the occasional run to the kitchen for snacks.
So there you have it. Our three simple rules for read alouds. Do you have any rules for picking the right read aloud? I’d love to hear them!