I spent hours of my adult life nestled in the corner of the sectional, feet tucked under me, with a book in my hands. Sometimes a baby sucked on a bulging breast at the same time, and one of those babies didn’t like to listen to my voice resonating through my chest cavity. Some well-timed nips to the nipples drove home that message. Ouch!
Other times a toddler couldn’t be calmed or a middler would knock over the orange juice onto the carpet and the book would get flung back into the library basket. Reading time over! Waving the white flag.
But those were exceptions. We made it a daily priority to read together for an hour. Read aloud time signaled the start to our homeschool day. It was the “coming together” of all of us of all the ages in all our stages, and it told us: “Yes, we homeschooled today.”
Over hummus and olives one Friday night in my friend’s kitchen (homeschoolers really rock the social scene), a bunch of my mom friends and I became animated as we swapped titles and our various reactions to the children’s novels we had read over nearly 10 years time. Better than a book club! We drank wine, we got misty over Anne of Green Gables, and had a wide variety of reactions to Moccasin Trail and Across Five Aprils. We were a wealth of detail about Rome and Egypt (easily could have talked husbands under the table about ancient history—so schmart were we, aided and abetted by fiction for children).
We also laughed about the books that bored us but that thrilled our kids.
For instance, I have no idea what happens in any Redwall book. I got through (operative phrase there) the first one (not as delighted by the woodland feasts and feisty creatures in chain mail as my kidlets), but then somewhere during the second installment, I discovered I could make shopping list, consider the benefits of dying my hair, and respond to angry posters online all in my head while reading, without skipping a sentence. So I’d merrily read along and space out, until that one moment that was sure to give me away at the end of any given chapter:
“Mom what do you think is going to happen next?’
“Um…” I scrambled. “I have a hunch the bad guys are preparing to attack the Abbey.”
Yes! That is what they thought! They knew it!
And that, friends, is the correct answer to any question about plot in Redwall. You’re welcome. You may return to kitchen remodeling in your mind.
While in this vigorous conversation about kids’ lit, one of the moms made a remarkable statement:
“I can’t figure out how you all have time to read aloud. We never have time. That’s the one thing we’ve never done in all our years. I just don’t see how it could be fitted in.”
For a tense moment, you could have heard an olive drop to that tiled floor. We were stunned, because what quickly became clear is that there were even a few us (I plead guilty to this charge) who sometimes got little more done in a day than reading aloud. I couldn’t imagine what homeschool would be if you didn’t read books to your kids.
If I had been forced to supervise workbooks all day, every day, for 5 kids, for 17 years without fiction? Without reading Laura Ingalls Wilder? Without discovering Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf or Robert Peck’s Soup? Not getting to read The Shadow Spinner or become enchanted by Toad and Mole and Badger in The Wind and the Willows?
Homeschoolers rightly think reading to our children is about getting them to hear quality language or to learn about history in a story-format or to become familiar with great literature. It is those.
But it’s also this: When you read aloud, your children discover your values and your humanity. They see tears form in the corners of your eyes. They notice the catch in your throat as you describe a tender scene of connection between two estranged characters. They hear you roar with laughter over an inside joke or a cultural touchstone and they want “in” and expect you to help them “get it.”
Big Juicy Conversations
And then you talk. About the book! About that awesome story and your surprise at the ending or how glad you are that it did end well. Forget that odious word “narration” for a moment (it has been used to drub tedious recounting out of children when a Big Juicy Conversation will do so much more).
You talk about who you liked and who you believed and who you rooted for to get what he or she wanted. You talk about the evil stoat or the wicked prince or the confusion that goes with a troubled character who has both admirable qualities and also real flaws. You compare today to then, and here to there. But you do it, filled with emotion and connection, and the sense of your own place in history and on the planet, all in front of your children—showing them a way to interact with each other, with their neighbors, with their fellow country-persons, and even with how they perceive other times and places.
Reading aloud is the chief way in the homeschool you show who you are to your children—and they show themselves to you. It’s the core of education.
I can’t think of any more important practice in the homeschool than the sacred read aloud time.
Read to your children every day that you can. You won’t regret it.