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This guest post is by Charity Hawkins, the author of the The Homeschool Experiment, an entertaining and encouraging novel about what homeschooling is really like.
Read-Aloud Stories & How to Make This Time Actually Happen at Your House - Or, How to Help Your Child Fall in Love with Reading
If I had to give my top advice for helping children fall in love with reading it would be:
1. Read to them.
2. Read to them.
3. Read to them.
We know reading aloud increases vocabulary and success in school, supports phonemic awareness, develops attention spans, and improves visualization and comprehension. More than that, it builds our relationships with our children and helps them fall in love with reading.
If you have a struggling reader, Read-Aloud Time is where I’d put the highest priority.
So that means, Mom or Dad reading to the child at a level above their reading level, NOT the child reading. Because if they are struggling, you both probably hate reading time. We want to turn it into the best part of both of your days, and light that fire in them to want to read.
But it’s just so hard to make Read-Aloud Time happen sometimes, isn’t it? It was hard for me.
My toddler would try to fling himself backwards off the couch for attention. The kids put their feet in their brother’s face (that was this morning). Someone would spill their juice/popcorn/cereal/milk (or muffin crumbs, also this morning). Nobody would want to read the book I picked. The phone would ding. I was too tired to read at night.
Even though I know reading aloud is one of my top priorities, it often gets squeezed out for something more tangible or just some alone time with no one around. (You know, to do something crucial, like watch the British Baking Show on my phone.)
Here are some strategies I’ve found to help reading aloud be more enjoyable for me and my four children and as a result, be something that happens more often than not.
To give you context, I have four children and we have mostly homeschooled. Right now, the oldest two (ages 14 and 12) are in school and I am homeschooling my 3rd grader with my 3-year-old along for the ride.
And of course, if your children are developing readers, keep doing phonics and fluency practice and all those things at a different time. That’s phonics lesson time or fluency practice time. But this time, Read-Aloud Time, is the “Give Them a Love for Reading” time. Read them great adventures and funny stories and give them a desire and a reason to want to do this hard work of learning to read.
Here are the 5 most helpful things we’ve done around our house to make sure Read-Aloud Time happens often.
1. Make it a treat for YOU.
I realized while writing this post, that I think this is the number one thing that helps us actually read aloud.
When I am tired, reading is the way I sit on the couch and get a little break. I usually fix a mug of hot tea or have a nice cold Coke Zero for myself. Sometimes chocolate is involved.
Yes, I might have to push myself to get started instead of getting on my phone, but it’s one of the most relaxing parts of my day.
If you can make yourself and your child a treat, get comfortable (find a great couch, chair or bed) and look at this as a breath for yourself, that goes a really long way. It makes Read-Aloud Time not another task on your list, but something YOU look forward to each day.
2. Find a Calm Time.
My favorite times are:
a. During nap time – I read to my 3rd grader during my 3-year-old’s nap time (or rest time if he doesn’t sleep).
b. Before naps/bed - I read to my toddler before naps and sometimes my 3rd grader before bed (if I’m not too tired)
c. First thing in the morning when they’re groggy (and lying around anyway, so this is perfect!)
d. In the car – we listen to Audible books on my phone (I got one of those tape adapters to play through the speakers in my car because I’m very low-tech) OR CD's from the library.
And, SWITCH YOUR PHONE TO SILENT, or put it in another room.
3. Snuggle up on the couch.
I love to physically snuggle up with my children whenever possible. I often stroke their hair or put my arm around them. It fills both our ‘love cups’.
And if the child is struggling with reading anyway, this just reinforces that reading is a delightful and wonderful activity, not horrible, exhausting torture.
4. Keep their mouths full .
If it’s morning, I let them munch on dry cereal and milk in a cup with a lid and straw. Non-messy is what I’m going for here. Something that if it spills it can be cleaned up later.
During Couch Time in the afternoons, we often make microwave popcorn. It takes a long time to eat and keeps my son occupied for a while.
5. Find books they love.
If you haven’t done this before, I’d say start with picture books, no matter the age of your child. There are some exquisitely-illustrated picture books or books of poetry that children and adults can enjoy.
How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World is a favorite one from the 5 in a Row Booklist. (View the booklist from that link, then request the book from your library.)
For older children, my boys enjoyed the detailed illustrations from the D’Aulaires’ books like Benjamin Franklin and Holling C. Holling’s books like Seabird.
For children who are ready for short read aloud chapter books (this could be 4 years or just starting in 4th grade if you’ve never done it), my favorites are Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Pippi Longstocking, and Paddington Bear.
Those are all funny, endearing, and each chapter is a self-contained story so it’s easy to do just a chapter a day. Also, there are several in the series, so your child might just be motivated to keep reading and try one on their own. My co-op literature class loved Pippi and Paddington, just a chapter or two of each, to get them hooked on this reading aloud idea.
Now in our co-op literature class we’re reading Toliver’s Secret, which is an exciting story of a girl smuggling a secret message to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The 2nd – 4th grade kids are on the edge of their seats as I read this; they are much more captivated than I even thought they would be. And that hits lots of American history in a much more interesting way than a textbook ever could.
My favorite way to find great chapter books is find one good one (usually, by being reminded of it on a podcast or in a book about reading or by a friend), then read everything else by that author.
My oldest son loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and went on to read all Roald Dahl books we could find. They liked Frindle (and others by Andrew Clements), The Penderwicks (and others in the series), Betsy Tacy (and the series), and so on!
The Read-Aloud Revival Podcast is the best resource I can give you for finding great books. Sarah Mackenzie has lots of book lists for all ages of children and many tips on reading aloud.
Also the book Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt has wonderful suggestions. And I rely heavily on the Sonlight catalog when planning our read-alouds and readers for the year. (There’s a link at the top that says “request a catalog”.)
Sorry, that’s a lot of information, isn’t it?! But don’t get overwhelmed. Just take baby steps. Habits are built bit by bit, over time.
This week’s baby step
If you’re wanting to start or strengthen a Read-Aloud habit in your family, but wondering where to start, this is what I’d suggest. Think of your most reluctant reader. Good.
Now, think of 10 minutes when you could potentially read to that child alone. If they’re in school, if getting up 15 minutes earlier is an option, they could lie there on the couch while you read them awake.
Or 10 min before bed. Or during an afternoon snack at the kitchen table. If you homeschool, after lunch or during younger children’s rest time is great.
1. Write that child’s name and the time of day you are planning to have Read-Aloud Time on a Post-It note. Put it on your fridge.
2. Pick out a book that looks great. Maybe a favorite holiday book? A non-fiction picture book about a topic they are interested in? A short chapter book you’ve been meaning to read or they want to read but are struggling?
Put that book next to the place you’re going to do Read-Aloud Time. Maybe several books if they are short, to last the week. (And maybe up high if people might mess with them.)
3. Put a reminder in your phone or set your watch timer to beep 10 minutes before Read-Aloud Time each day.
4. Now start! Each day you do your reading, make a tally mark (or put a cute sticker) on your Post-It Note on the fridge. See how many days you can do it this week!
Comment below and let us know how it went. What questions do you have? What problems did you run into? Did your child enjoy it? Did you?
One More Baby Step
Whenever I want to get re-motivated to Read Aloud, I listen to Sarah Mackenzie or Andrew Pudewa. If you have a struggling reader, I’d beg you to listen to at least these two podcasts.
I can’t wait to hear how it goes! I’m working to get more reading in our days as well and writing this has made me want to just grab my kids and cuddle up and read for days. Let’s get to it!
Charity Hawkins is the author of the real-life adventure book The Homeschool Experiment. She lives, writes, and reads to her kids (even when they are wiggly and dropping muffin crumbs) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.