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There’s never been a point when I haven’t read to our boys, but homeschooling provides much more opportunity and time to read to them. At the beginning of 2020, I got the CD version of the book Read-Aloud Family by Sarah McKenzie and began listening to it. I devoured the book over the next few months. The first few chapters, in particular, were so inspiring that they began to transform the way I viewed everything we were doing as a homeschool family.
I was raised in a “read-aloud family.”
And hearing all of the rich information that Sarah brought up (including scientific studies) made a light-bulb go off in my head. My siblings and I have a genetic propensity to higher IQ (our dad is a mathematician), but I firmly believe that our intellect was fostered, developed, and improved by our both our high-quality education and the way our parents raised and taught us within the home.
We didn’t have a TV. We read books and listened to classical music. My mom read to us as preschoolers. She read to us as elementary-aged kids. She even read to us as teenagers. We spent HOURS listening to books on tape and CD.
When Sarah shared the benefits of read-aloud, I was nodding along as I folded our family’s laundry. OF COURSE! YES! THIS MAKES SO MUCH SENSE! I’m the product of a read-aloud family!
Reading aloud to your kids (even through the teen years) doesn’t just help them learn. It helps develop their vocabulary, reading comprehension, empathy, and world-view.
So, having this light-bulb moment, I shifted away from non-fiction (which we still use), and toward more stories and fiction read with the boys. We particularly use a lot of fiction in our history studies. While it’s slowed down our trek through American history considerably, I think it’s made our studies richer and broadened Ezra’s understanding in far greater ways than if we had just ploughed our way through our history textbooks on schedule.
Then 2020 happened. It really was serendipitous I started reading Sarah’s book just as we ended up in quarantine and I was bed-and-couch-bound with an injury. We couldn’t go to the park. I couldn’t even take the boys on a walk around the neighborhood! I could barely make it out to our back porch! (The first time I tried, I flipped my scooter, no joke!) But we could read. And read we did.
Another aspect to us being able to enjoy this past year of reading aloud together was that my children hit points in their development where they can handle chapter books. I could not read chapter books to both of them in 2019. Little Brother just didn’t have the attention span for it. He is still developing in this aspect, and still causes a lot of disruption, but it’s SO much better than it was a year ago.
When we were living with my parents, many people from our church reached out and sent gifts to Illinois. We had not prepared to live there for three weeks. My mom has invested in many toys, books, and things for her grandkids over the years and has a VERY kid-friendly home, but it’s not the same as our house. One dear friend sent some puzzles and Legos for the boys AND a Sticker by Number book sticker book for mom! Ezra quickly hijacked the sticker book, and thus was born our special time known as “stickers and reading.”
For the most part, Ezra is a pure joy to read to. He does interrupt occasionally for me to explain words or phrases he doesn’t know. Certain times during the day, it’s harder for him to focus. He HAS to be doing something with his hands, otherwise he’s all over the place.
Other things Ezra enjoys are “coloring and reading” and “stitching (cross-stitch) and reading.” Today, we even did “folding laundry and reading.”
Little Brother, on the other hand, is far more of a challenge. With him, the interruptions are far more frequent. The reading level of our chosen read-aloud can also have a big impact on his attention span. There are some books we’ve chosen to send him off to play (or off to bed) instead of struggling through read-aloud time with him. That said, he WANTS to be with us during read-aloud time, and gains more from it than I ever thought he would. His vocabulary has increased a lot, and I believe that read-aloud has a lot to do with it (even if he’s not really understanding everything in the story).
Me, reading: “He stepped in front of Sarah and planted himself with feet apart and hands on his hips.”
Little Brother, interrupting: “So you mean he did this?”
Little Brother also has to be doing something with his hands, otherwise he ends up jumping on the couch, standing on his head, and being very disruptive. It can take us FOREVER to get through even a chapter on days when his attention span is short.
LB likes “scenes” in the form of Colorforms, Melissa & Doug reusable sticker pads, Little Dover sticker books (these are not reusable but are cheap and make great stocking stuffers), and magnet scenes. He also enjoys drawing his own “scenes.”
Coloring and puzzles do not seem to engage LB just yet, although we do have a plethora of those activities on hand as well.
Sometimes he plays with more traditional toys, but he tends to get lost in his own play scenarios and the play noises are so loud, none of us can concentrate on the reading.
I’m still trying to figure out the best scenario – the best activities for the boys, the best location, the best time of day – for our read-aloud time to go smoothly. I’m learning that, maybe, there never really is a “perfect” reading time.
It takes us such a long time to get through a book, it very much frustrates ME when I look at pushing our lesson plans back further…and further…and further. The more interruptions, the more frustrated I get. It’s a lesson in patience for me. It’s a lesson in attention for the boys. And we are all learning!
As far as our favorite read-aloud books so far, we have loved the Astrotwins Series (more on that in a subsequent post), books from Childhood of Famous Americans (there’s over 100 of these books!), the Christian Heritage Series by Focus on the Family, and the American Adventure series.
You can view even more of our favorite series here: A HUGE list of educational TV shows & book series for elementary kids!
Read-aloud time has a way of relating us all to life in new ways. A great example of this was a page from a book about astronomer John Glenn, in which the children in the story were quarantined during an epidemic:
We are also utilizing a lot more audiobooks. I am constantly growing our library by putting CDs from our local library and online libraries into our OneDrive account. I use the app CloudBeats to stream stories on the boys devices (an older iPad and iPhone). I pay for the storage, but it means I don’t have to physically put the files on the devices. I just add them to OneDrive via my computer and then we can access the files easily.
LB loves playing with his toys while listening to Mr. Men and Little Miss, Henry and Mudge, Annie and Snowball, Mr. Putter and Tabby, Library Mouse, and Frog and Toad stories. So I’m working on getting copies of all of those into our library. We also check out the physical books and read those aloud to him.
Another read-aloud strategy we use a lot is for Ezra to read to Little Brother. I do this particularly for non-fiction science books. Most of the books that are at Ezra’s reading level tend to be boring. So instead, I get science-based books that are closer to Little Brother’s level (Pebble Plus from Capstone Publishing are our favorites!), and make Ezra read them to LB. It frees me up to do other things around the house, gives Ezra read-aloud practice, teaches the concepts that they need to learn, and gives them a chance to bond.
LB pays SO MUCH better attention to Ezra than he does to me. Dare I say that Ezra is a far more engaging reader?
While it’s never perfect, and often frustrating, there’s rarely a day that goes by where there’s not SOME sort of read-aloud time happening in our home.