Before I knew anything else about how I wanted to approach homeschooling, I knew reading aloud to the kids would be a big part of our routine. You don’t have to look hard to find about a bazillion studies on the importance and benefits of reading to children – things like developing critical brain connections and unique bonding opportunities between parents and their little ones.
Knowing all this, I thought I had at least one facet of my kid’s education under control. In fact, I built in three different opportunities each day for reading aloud together (morning meetup, lunch, and late afternoon). I was nailing it! Where I fouled it up, though, was by thinking the kids needed to be (or even should be) sitting still as angelic cherub statues as I read. After quite a few sessions of feeling like I was reading to the wall and biting my tongue between sentences to keep from screaming, I decided to rethink my approach. It seemed the kids had no trouble listening attentively during lunchtime, so I thought about what made that occasion different from our other reading times. The main difference I found was that during lunch they had something to do while they listened. They were eating, drinking, using their hands. And still, they were able to recall our story from day to day. Ah-ha!
So I put some thought into what other things might be helpful and implemented these five tips for a successful, happier read aloud time.
1. Set a time, but keep it loosey-goosey. Our afternoon read aloud time is twenty minutes, but it often goes on until we agree on a good stopping point. I’m not too rigid with this part of our schedule because I believe in the value of this time together. That being said, if the kids seem done after twenty minutes or need to burn off some energy outside, we stop right there. Less can be more here. Twenty minutes of engaged listening is better than forty-five minutes of forced boredom.
2. Offer quiet, tactile activities. While I’m reading, the kids can choose from several quiet activities to keep their hands busy. The only rules are they cannot leave the room (unless to use the bathroom) and they cannot be loud or interrupt the reading. Some of our activity options are:
Blocks/Manipulatives*Of course Legos are my kids’ favorite, but they’re outside the room where we do our afternoon reading, so they use either Lincoln Logs, old-fashioned wood blocks, or these multi-colored math cubes (afflink). The favorite wooden block activity is making a tall tower and knocking it over, which is obviously quite loud, so they don’t often choose those.
Of course, the kids are free to just sit or lie down and listen without doing anything else, which brings me to tip number 3…
3. Make your reading area comfortable. You don’t need to buy fancy cushions or fashion a Pinterest-worthy reading nook to achieve comfort here. We’ve simply re-purposed large stuffed animals and pillows from the kids’ rooms (because really why do they need two dozen “friends” in their beds?), plus a corner saucer chair for the reader, a.k.a. me. Your space needs to be just inviting enough that you want to spend some time there.
4. Let the kids decide. For me, relinquishing control is like giving away the last Wonka bar with a golden ticket, but I realize it sometimes must be done for the greater good. So, I often let the kids pick our read aloud books, sometimes from a group of options I’ve chosen and sometimes from a random library selection. When they have input into what we’re reading, they are more invested and eager to listen.
5. Don’t waste time on duds. It pains me to include this one because I loathe even the thought of not finishing a book. However, if a book isn’t working for you and your kids (maybe it’s too dry, too slow, or perhaps even offensive), it’s okay to put it down and start anew. Maybe you can come back to the book down the road when your kids are older, or maybe that book will never be your cup of bookish tea. At any rate, don’t spend precious time on a book that isn’t working.
That’s not to say every book has to be beloved by all. My kids are amazingly different and don’t always enjoy the same books. We just follow the ‘majority rules’ principle and it all seems to work out.
These tips have helped our reading time tremendously. They’ve allowed us to read some lengthier chapter books that we’d probably never have gotten through in our former fashion. We’re doing a lot of reading, and that makes me one happy mama!
Do you have a read aloud routine in your home? What things have (or haven’t) worked for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.