Our family spends a lot of time reading together. It is so normal to us that I don’t notice it as unusual; it’s simply who we are. My homeschool support group asked me the other day how I facilitate read-aloud time, and I thought I’d share some of those strategies here.
First, we start with realistic expectations. It was not reasonable for me to expect my two year-old to sit still and read through forty minutes of reading. Once I gave up that expectation, I was much happier with our read-aloud time. I do
expect my older children to listen attentively through a short Bible passage, a history or science reading, and a chapter of a novel, but we worked our way up to that. We started reading day one, with board books. If you have older children who don’t love to be read to, start with favorite picture books. Then add familiar fairy tales told in a different way (the Lang Fairy Books are great for this). Beatrix Potter stories are good because they have lots of pictures but introduce lots of new vocabulary without explaining it exactly– the child has to learn the word from context. (This skill is so important for enjoying reading.) When our children were three, we started adding in chapter books, like Winne the Pooh.
Second, I usually combine reading with an activity for their hands. Most days, I read a chunk of our reading over lunch. I eat while I’m preparing their lunch, and then while their hands and mouths are occupied, I read to them. I can usually get a good 20-30 minutes in without much protest in this way. Then if we have more reading—and usually we do—I provide another special activity to do simultaneously. We pull out new play-dough and tools. Or I cover the table with butcher paper and bring out the pastels or water-colors. Perler beads. Or a fresh block of modeling clay that isn’t all that yicky grey-brown color. I set up the play tent in the living room, and they’ll pretend they are camping in the living room. Sometimes we have a special snack and tea while I read. SweetP (almost 4) doesn’t make it through all the reading, but she loves the other activity and loves being at the table with us.The key to this second reading time is to reserve the activity (tent, clay, pastels, etc.) only for reading time so that they are excited to be a part of it.
Here’s a recent doodle-paper the kids filled during our reading time:
Third, we shake it up. We keep a lot of different books going at the same time, so that it isn’t pushing through just one book for an hour a day. We read picture books—old favorites and new ones. We read science. Fairy tales. Poetry, both serious and silly. I do voices. We listen to books on CD. But everything we read together is good literature. I don’t let them talk me into reading a Pokemon book for family reading time. Last weeks selections included: the Bible (Proverbs, Joshua, and Matthew), Diane Stanley’s The Bard of Avon, Raold Dahl’s The BFG, Susan Weiss Bauer’s The Story of the World, Volume 3, Secret Water by Arthur Ransome, poetry by Shel Silverstein and Rachel Field, Beatrix Potter stories, Heidi by Johanna Spyri, and books on animal camouflage from the library.
(Here you can see the portrait of Papa–thair grandfather– and the mountains described in the passage of Heidi we read.)
My hope is not only that they will learn from great books, but that we as a family will have a shared lexicon built not just of experience, but of a shared library. I want us to be able to laugh (or cry) together in two—or five or twenty years—over what we read together today.