When I first began to homeschool, I had visions of my children sitting at my feet, hanging on my every word, and basking in the warm glow of knowledge. We have never had a day like that, but there is one time of day when they are sitting at my feet and hanging on my every word. It happens when we read great books together. The experience of families reading aloud together was quite common before the days of radio and television (and texting and Facebook). Time spent with great stories and characters gave families common references and sparked meaningful conversation.
Many veteran homeschoolers advocate reading aloud to your children for one or two hours a day. As an avid reader myself, I did not need too much encouragement or a long list of reasons to incorporate this into our daily routine. Seven years later, I now have my own list of reasons for our family’s favorite ritual.
We enjoy it. No matter how much time I read to them, they usually beg for more. When we read the Little House on the Prairie series a couple of years ago, I had to force us to stop and attend to math and chores. During that time, we pondered the difficulty of life on the homestead. My children were quickly grateful for our well-stocked pantry and central heat and air. They marveled at a Christmas morning in which children were delighted by the bounty of an orange, a penny, a peppermint stick, and a pair of mittens.
In our home, we usually start the day with a book that requires our attention and concentration. Then, we often have more light-hearted books on audio CD in the car. My favorite sentence is, “Please, Mom, just one more chapter.”
They become better independent readers. When you read aloud to your children, you build a rich vocabulary by introducing them to words in context. Then, when they encounter a big word in their own reading, they pronounce it with ease. I have just finished two years of phonics instruction with my third child, Susannah, who is six. This weekend, I took my daughters to the local bookstore. Susannah headed to “her shelf” which contained Level 2 readers. After watching her plow through several of these in fifteen minutes, I quickly decided that I did not want to pay four dollars for books that she can read in five minutes. Out of curiosity, I handed her a beginning chapter book and casually said, “Why don’t you try a page or two of this, and we’ll see how it goes.” Since Sunday, she has read four of those books. Every time she encountered a word of three syllables or more, she came running in to demonstrate her “really hard word.”
Reading aloud to children increases their facility with words. Not only do they become better independent readers, but they become better at reading aloud to others. I recently caught Abby reading to her younger sisters and “doing the voices.” In his book, The Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease enumerates a well-researched list of the benefits of reading aloud as a family (see resource list below).
We have great discussions and shape moral decisions. My children love to choose the character that best represents them and explain why. They analyze the decisions a character has made and decide whether they would have acted in the same way. Subtly, through the use of active imaginations, we are shaping their moral decisions. As Doug Wilson notes in Classical Education and the Homeschool: “In the case of morality, many thinkers have pointed to the fact that moral judgments involve the imaginative act of placing yourself in the other person’s place, the act of sympathy” (23). Reading allows you to live through another person, to experience life vicariously. In our books, we have faced a wide range of situations that require bravery, honesty, integrity, selflessness, and charity. This equips children to exercise all of these virtues when faced with real-life choices. We have been drawn closer together by developing a shared language and set of experiences as a family.
Here is a very brief list of some of the books our family has enjoyed.
- Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
*Note: I thought the language in this book would be too difficult for them. Instead, they delighted in Phileas Fogg’s bet with his friends, and we raced to the end to see if he won.
- Chronicles of Narnia (series) by C. S. Lewis
- Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
*Note: The first three are excellent and fun. We found book four very strange and filled with adult themes.
- Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
- The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright
- Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder
*Note: my children found the final book in the series (The First Four Years) too emotionally intense
- Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
*Note: We really enjoyed this tale of a family living and working together which will be familiar for homeschooling families. My son had to suspend his disbelief at all of the amazing things they find on their tropical island.
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene Dubois
- Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
Favorite audio books:
- Hank the Cowdog by John Erickson
- Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Resource Lists for Reading Aloud
- Hunt, Gladys. Honey for a Child’s Heart. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
- McCallum, Elizabeth, and Jane Scott. The Book Tree: A Christian Reference for Children’s Literature. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2008.
*Note: Both of these have excellent annotations that will help you choose read-alouds that are right for your family.
- Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook. 6th ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
*Note: Trelease’s book offers solid research on the benefits of reading aloud.