Beyond Bedtime: Seven Thoughts About Reading Aloud

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The Garner Girls love to read!  My love for reading is a gift from my mother, who always made sure there was plenty to read when I was growing up.  Trips to the library were frequent and a joy.  My mind’s eye can still recall the children’s upstairs reading room, and the enormous magnolia tree that shaded the library where I was allowed my first library card!

Three years ago,  when I first set out on the journey of homeschooling,  I simply opened the first book on the schedule and started reading!  Over the years I’ve discovered new joys of reading aloud and compiled them here for you.

#1 Reading Aloud Benefits Every Age

It’s important to keep reading aloud throughout elementary years, not stopping once the children can read for themselves.   This was my mistake.  We had a wonderful Read-Aloud tradition when our children were younger.  For some reason reading aloud was associated in my mind with pajamas and bedtime and lovely Caldecott picture books.  Homeschooling with Sonlight shifted my thinking, and I’m grateful!  Even now with a middle school student, we still keep a family Read-Aloud going at least once or twice a week in the evenings.

Listening to an advanced book read aloud dramatically improves the general use of language in myriad ways.  Andrew Pudewa of Institute for Excellence in Writing, states that one of the reasons why children struggle with composition is that they can’t put down on paper what does not exist in their brains.  (See the link to his excellent article, “The Arts of Language” at the bottom of this post.)  By reading aloud well-written fiction, choosing books more advanced than what your child would read on his or her own, a wealth of new vocabulary is introduced in context.  Quality literature offers complicated situations and ideas, and characters who are more richly drawn than those the typical “Scholastic”  formula chapter book spoons up.  Classic books also model proper grammar and sentence structure.  Students at all grade levels can benefit by the addition of clear and expressive language and deep thinking to their linguistic toolbox.  It’s never too late to start.  In his book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease shares example after example of the phenomenal turnaround experienced by at-risk high school students when teachers read the classics aloud.

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#2 Take Turns Reading Aloud

When the reading gets long, and your throat gets dry, take turns!  Our family takes turns reading the assigned Bible portions in the mornings.  Poetry and Shakespeare must be read aloud, so we take turns with that as well!  Encouraging the Daughter to read aloud over the years has noticeably improved her diction, the pace and interpretation of her reading, and given her confidence.

#3 Read Aloud Time is Special Time

Reading aloud requires comfortable chairs!  We each have a table that serves as a desk in our school room.  But for reading aloud, we move to a different room, grab a cozy spot and something to sip.  The year we studied the Eastern Hemisphere, the stories were set in Japan,  China, Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Central Asia, India and the Middle East.  We discovered something common to all of these regions, and many of the stories – tea!  Inspired, we began to brew a pot of our favorite Samurai Chai Mate during Read-Aloud!

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#4 Fidgety? Sure, Let them Color

Why not allow a busy child to color, or sketch,  knit,  embroider, whittle, or build…?  Through the Sonlight years, it would sometimes take 30 to 45 minutes for us to finish our assigned Read-Aloud.  Some children won’t have a problem snuggling up with a cup of tea or cocoa, and listening.  Other children will be wiggling after five minutes.   As long as the activity provides repetitive movement, and does not require deep thinking, it is unlikely to distract from the story.  One wiggly year, we enjoyed coloring pages made from the Japanese prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige.  The Daughter made comments, chuckled at all the right places, and could narrate back the story line with confidence.  This year she is stitching and embroidering felt owl ornaments during Read-Aloud.

#5 Include Historical Fiction on Your Timeline

I think I will always connect the American Revolution with the Newbury winning Johnny Tremaine, by Esther Forbes!  This is the brilliance of Living Books and literature-based curriculum.  Since much of Sonlight reading, (and now our Charlotte Mason curriculum) is organized historically, it makes sense to include the book titles in our Book of Time.  Because we are visual, and end up looking at the book cover for however long we are reading, I chose to use the thumbnail images of the book cover available on Amazon.  I cut and paste the images to a page  in MS Publisher,  print the pages(s) on white card stock, and store the printouts until we read the book.

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#6 Map the Journey on Google Maps

Don’t the best books involve a journey?  These books really lend themselves to mapping.  In a favorite title from Sonlight’s Core F India section,  the reader travels along with Momo, the Daughter of the Mountain,  as she follows the Great Trade Route from the cold, windy heights of the Jelep La (pass) of Tibet, down the rugged mountains, through the colorful blooming hill country, then the lush green tea plantation region, to the flat dusty plain of Calcutta as she searches for her Llasa apsa terrier Pempa, who was stolen from her.   The author, Louis Rankin, vividly describes the vast differences in terrain, flora and fauna through which Momo treks as she makes her way to India.  We enjoyed logging the names of the villages and market towns through which she passed on Google Maps, and then clicking “Satellite view” to see the topography of Momo’s long expedition. Click here for our map.

Similarly, we mapped Buran’s itinerary through the medieval market towns of the Middle East and Mediterranean, while reading Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, by Barbara Cohen.   And we explored South Africa along with David Livingstone by mapping his adventures into the interior while reading his biography, David Livingstone: Africa’s Trailblazer,  by Janet and Geoff Benge.

#7 Reading Aloud Reveals Literary Elements

Somehow those literary elements aren’t so stuffy sounding in context.  Reading aloud enables mercifully short well-timed lessons on literary elements like foreshadowing which is brilliantly used in Shadow Spinner, by Susan Fletcher; character development which is clearly seen in Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, by Elizabeth Lewis; and rising and falling action which is easy to find in Ali and the Golden Eagle, by  Wayne Grover.

At first, convinced I wasn’t “doing enough” to “just” read aloud, I wrestled with ways to “teach” the book.   Shouldn’t we be writing book reports, filling out a worksheet,  testing the vocabulary, or what have you?  I’ve since learned to relax.  It seems that by stopping to re-read passages we find particularly funny, or descriptive; by discussing how the movement of plot has made us anxious, satisfied or unwilling to stop reading; and by lingering over language that molds a character’s flesh and pulses their blood; we are accomplishing the same thing in less tedious fashion, and with much more impact!   We also write one or two of these favorite passages each week in our Commonplace Books, but no book reports!  (See video at bottom of the page…)

If you are  not convinced of the value of reading aloud, I urge you to read Jim Trelease’s book The Read Aloud Handbook in which he provides compelling stories and mouth-dropping statistics of the extraordinary educational value of reading aloud, all the way through high school!

Need more immediate encouragement for reading aloud beyond bedtime? Here are some links for you:

NEW LINK:  Reading for the Pleasure of Others (from Simply Charlotte Mason this series of 5 short posts provide helpful reading tips)

Alpha Omega – Ten Reasons to Read Aloud to Your Children

Reach out and Read – Importance of Reading Aloud

The Arts of Language, by Andrew Pudewa

How the Internet Will Revolutionize the Way You Homeschool

And about those book reports…

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