Don't worry. This isn't one of those posts that will imply that you need to set your home up with all the pretty things and wait until your children are well behaved before you think about adding this rhythm into your day.
I'm all about start where you are at now. With the children you have. In the home you live in. Don't worry about waiting until you have a cute little matching tea set (for the record the plates and cups in the photo below are all op-shop (thrift store) finds with the odd chip here and there). Our house is falling apart and yet here we are....homeschooling, living together and trying to make a beautiful life right where we are at.
Relatable? I hope so.
And with the scene of imperfection set, let's dive in.
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A BIT OF BACKGROUND
I had always read aloud to our kiddos since they were babies (mostly chunky board books that progressed to other children's picture books) but I started to really see the value in reading longer, life-giving stories once we started this home-learning journey. I don't know now if it was because of the emphasis placed on read aloud in the Charlotte Mason Method of homeschooling which I read about as I researched how we would homeschool our kids. It may have been because a homeschooling friend of mine (thanks Sal!) shared with me about her kids loving this rhythm but I DO know that over the years my resolve to keep this little anchor for our family was strengthened by the writing and sharing of my afar-mentor Sally Clarkson - (ps: the best book I ever read in those early day was Educating the Whole Hearted Child and Sally and husband Clay talked a lot about a literary-rich environment). Be warned, I'm a HUGE Clarkson Family fan and so will share often about things I've learned from them along the way.
Recently, I finished the beautiful book Brave Learner by Julie Bogart and absolutely adore the way Julie encourages families to begin a teatime ritual to accompany poetry or story read aloud. This resonated with me so much because we had been doing this for years. It's so affirming to read from others the value they see in things like this. I sat down and wrote this little Facebook post about how we have loved the read aloud rhythm and it got A LOT of people talking. Some readers wanted to know which books/poets I'd recommend for their kiddos and others loved hearing the few brief practical notes I'd made about how we make it work and so I thought I'd address both those things in a blog post.
HOW WE STARTED
The first read aloud we ever did was the book Heidi. I started off trying to make the kids sit still (actually DEMANDING they sit still!) and realised after a VERY short time that that was not honouring their needs. My kids are born movers. They move when they are happy, when they're frustrated or anxious. Some of that could be because of the neurodivergent needs of our kiddos and some of it could have been personality and both of those things are OK. All I knew was that forcing them to be still was not going to happen without spirits being broken and I'm not down with that.
I thought about WHAT I wanted and WHY this read aloud thing felt important to me. I knew it was about spending time together and building connection. I knew it would give us time and space to discuss ideas and give my children a chance to really think about people, periods of history and dream up some big dreams. Could we read stories whilst they moved AND still achieve these things? I thought we could and that it would be worth the chance trying. And so we did.
We put a few guidelines in place. When I read, hands could be busy (building or drawing or fidgeting) but voices had to be quiet so it was fair for everyone to listen.
I bought a vintage suitcase and put it underneath our tv cabinet in the lounge-room. The suitcase was filled with duplo blocks and the kids pulled it out each story time and built with it. Other times I’d bring to the table pencils, clipboards and papers and they’d spread themselves out on the rug and draw something about the story!(or free draw!) They still love doing this!
I found these words on an old blog post of mine written in 2009 with the following photo of a castle:
"Over the past couple of weeks the boys have gotten out their castle stuff again (after us reading Robin Hood as our family read aloud) and then The Three Musketeers which was finished off last week. Now they play fight over who is going to be D'Artagnan and who is going to be Athos and whether or not Stassi should be Milady or Mademoiselle Bonacieux."
As the kids got older, I introduced tea time. I’d buy a special sweet treat and pour tea. Sometimes we’d have spills and arguments like who took too much sugar but over time the kids came to enjoy this lovely time - preparing for it, the tea cups associated with it, the rooibos tea and graduating to English breakfast tea. It became a treasured and almost sacred, calming time. Our current favourite tea cups are the baked enamel ones I brought back with me from my Dad's hometown in Labasa, Fiji the last time I visited. It reminds me of my other home.
I’ve lost count of all the amazing books we’ve read aloud over the years but there have been SO many and I'm going to include a list to some of them below. We’ve discussed a million different ideas and topics inspired by our readings. It’s taken us on other learning tangents. We’ve discussed structural techniques employed by poets and writers like their use of metaphor and simile, bias, puns, primary witness accounts and we’ve enjoyed reading for the sake of appreciating good plot and character development. We've created lapbooks and posters, made recipes found associated with a story (like Ma's spicy apple pie in FARMER BOY), we've watched videos and looked up places on the globe or in our atlas because we read about them in our books. We've discussed virtuous ideas, noble characters and destructive things too like segregation and apartheid again just based on our read aloud.
We have loved tracking down the movie account to watch to discuss the differences between films and books and artistic license like when we recently compared the book and movie of DOCTOR DOOLITTLE.
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR READING ALOUD:
* Explain that whilst read aloud is happening, only the reader's voice should be heard so that everyone has a fair chance of listening (of course we stop LOTS and LOTS so I can ask questions or so the kids can!)
* Prompt (little people especially) to go to the bathroom before you start.
* I suggest giving kiddos a chance to get some excess energy out first before read aloud time.
That often helped our very energetic children.
* Lay out or have the kids grab something quiet to do with their hands: printed sheets or colouring in books like ZEN TANGLES, HOW TO DRAW BOOKS, LEGO KITS (or make your own) or DUPLO BLOCKS, PLAYDOUGH, PUZZLES, MAGNETICS KITS OR MAGNACARRY KITS which can be done independently OR get the kids to help set out a tea time with cups, teapot, spoons, plates and napkins with a sweet treat to go with it all. (In our family we kept activities and teatime separate because inevitably sticky fingers would end up all over the activities).
( Playing playdough and colouring in whilst listening ) (Snuggles are the best)
* Keep the first few times short so that you can set everyone up for success.
* Make yourselves as comfy as you can - cushions, blankets, weighted blankets or other fidget toys (if your child is sensory-seeking).
* I prefer to choose books based on where my kids are at reading level and maturity-wise rather than sticking to an age recommendation.
BOOKS AND POEMS TO READ
This is NOT an extensive list but these are among some of the fab read alouds we did with our family.
LITTLE PEOPLE/NEW READERS & LISTENERS:
SLIGHTLY OLDER READERS & LISTENERS:
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
OLDER READERS AND LISTENERS:
DEVOTIONAL READ ALOUDS:
PORTABLE READ ALOUDS
We love to mix up our read aloud times by taking it outdoors every now and then. Sometimes we read under the trees in our backyard.
If we go to a cafe, sometimes I'll tuck our read aloud into my handbag and we'll continue reading in a corner in the cafe sipping on hot chocolates.
If we are travelling in the car, I'll often have purchased the audio book or see if we can get a Librivox recording on the Podcast app to see if we can continue on with our story.
Last week my youngest two took themselves outside and set themselves up with a read aloud picnic complete with basket, sandwiches and two copies of the same book. (I wasn't invited to this one - too cute!)
A FEW LAST IDEAS:
* Go to local book sales or second hand swaps to find books. Buy multiple copies of the same book (same edition is even better) which means everyone has a copy for the read aloud time.
* For some of my kids, we chose a song (rap lyrics favoured by my older kids) and took them apart together (picking out similes, metaphors etc).
* If reading aloud is a struggle for you, read a bit and then allow the kids to take turns and pass the book around.
* Add in voices and characterisation to make it more interesting (dress up boxes rock!) Reenact scenes, have kids rewrite the last chapter or give a newspaper style review.
* Create lapbooks (search Pinterest with the title of the book and the word 'lapbook') or paper hand puppets (heaps online to print and have the kids colour in).
* Make story stones and have the kids retell the story in their own words.
* Any kind of retelling of the story (whether by chapter or the whole book) is a helpful way to gauge if the main ideas of the book have sunk in and also help to cement ideas by listening to others.
* Stop and ask questions like, "what do you think is going to happen next?" or "where are they going to hide?!" "Let's see if you're right!"
** Shameless plug: I have template packs you might like to use to assist your kiddos in making notes of the learning that has occured for them: there are book review templates and book vs movie templates too. You can read more about the template packs HERE. **
* Read aloud time builds relationships, encourages thought and discussion of ideas, transports us to different times and places and helps us understand the world around us. Choosing books that are engaging or are considered 'living books' are a great place to start.
* Look for booklists and ask your local librarian for recommendations.
Well that's about it for now on reading aloud. I hope it helps encourage you to just pick a book and go for it! What have you got to lose?
I really hope my kiddos will look back with as much fondness on these times as I will.
Ps: Not sure where to start with homeschooling? Check out Fearless Homeschool's Zero to Homeschool online course (afflink)- it's fabulous! x