Thursday, April 9, 2009

Incorporating Read-Alouds When it Seems Almost Impossible

Photo courtesy of Neal the Ranger

It was back in October of this year when I finally admitted to myself that read-alouds just weren't going to happen very much in our home. It was very difficult to accept this truth because so much of our homeschool is built around reading great books. Several of our children are competent, skilled and independent readers, but I longed to return to the days when we could just snuggle on the couch under a big quilt and live a wonderful story together. I used to love reading chapter after chapter, even spending an entire afternoon in front of the fireplace hearing the adventures of Bilbo Baggins or devouring an inspiring missionary biography.

I re-scheduled and re-scheduled, but nothing I could come up with could put the needs of my babies and toddlers (and sometimes preschoolers) on hold so we could accomplish this worthy pursuit. Our little people needed me and didn't want to be pushed aside so we could spend hours on something that did nothing to draw them into our family circle. It was then that I came to the realization our leisurely read-aloud days weren't over forever, but were going to be on a loooooong vacation.

At a homeschool conference a few years ago, I attended a session presented by Bev Rempel, an expert in writing instruction and a former homeschooling mom. She said that it was very important for children to hear language being used, in the form of literature read aloud, in order to be competent writers in the future. These days, I need to be creative to make sure our children are being read to.

Here are a few ideas, if you struggle like I do with this:
  1. Little Ones' Sleeping Time: Either during a nap or after they have gone to bed, make it a priority to drop everything and grab a book. This is your big chance, so don't mess it up by checking your e-mail or a message board first. If the kids are doing other school, they can set it aside. When my baby guy falls asleep for his daytime nap, that is our signal for Bible time. He has been an erratic sleeper, so we do Bible immediately. Because there are still other littles around, we don't abolish all interruptions, but they are drastically cut down.
  2. Dad Reading Aloud at Bedtime: My husband has just finished reading Alice in Wonderland to our 3, 5 and 7 year old daughters. A lot of families find that having Dad read to a group of fairly sleepy (therefore mellow) children works well.
  3. A Special Book with Grandma/Grandpa: If your children's grandparents live nearby and you see them frequently (once a week or more), you might ask if one of them would be willing to have a special book from which they will read a chapter at each visit. If you and the grandparent have a similar philosophy on what constitutes good literature, it is particularly meaningful to have the grandparent choose the book.
  4. Books on CD: Digital read-aloud versions are available for many classics on Librivox. They are free and can be easily burned onto CDs for your child to listen to independently, at bedtime or during car trips. Younger children may enjoy the wonderful stories from Story Nory.
  5. Getting Help from Your Older Children: If you have an older child, you can consider asking them to watch a baby/toddler while you read to the other children. Alternatively, you can watch the baby/toddler while the older child reads aloud. A key to success here is to have the reading done in a different room than the entertaining of the little ones. Some moms find that children are more attentive if they get to pile onto Mom and Dad's bed for a read-aloud, even in the middle of the day.
  6. Contain Little Ones: As long as it hasn't been overused, older babies/younger toddlers are often content to sit in their high chairs munching on a snack. Preferably, this will be something that will take them awhile to eat and that they enjoy. I don't know why some babies who are normally very active are content to sit in a high chair, but I do find this sometimes works for short periods of reading aloud.
  7. Hire a Mother's Helper: Several homeschooling families I know without older children have hired a 10-12 year old homeschooled young lady to come over once or twice a week and play with her children while she remains in the home, safely close by. This frees her up to have much needed time to herself, work on projects, have a nap aloud to children who are old enough to listen!
Please recognize that as great as any ideas or plans might sound, life with very young children is filled with interruptions. No matter what you do at this stage, it is unlikely to yield hours of read-aloud time. Young children's needs are often immediate and their immaturity means they need lots of shepherding.


  1. Great ideas Christine!

    Thanks so much for visting my blog!
    I spent a couple of hours staying up waaay too late reading yours...feeling a little more Charlotte Masony inspired again. lol.
    Also thinking of digging out my knitting needles and trying to learn to knit something that actually someone might "want" to wear.

    I'm looking forward to summer again, I find I can get reading aloud down so much easier then. I will feed the kids outside at the patio table and read while they eat and then when the little ones are finished they will just head to the sandbox or somewhere to play and I can get a longer read in. I'm thinking baby will be ready for a nap at that time in the sling as well. Here's hoping and counting down the days...:)

  2. P.S. I'm excited about the 2 links you provided for the free story downloads. Can't wait to check them out!

  3. I agree about reading outside. That is an excellent tip that does work well for us, too. Little ones seem to be more happily occupied outside than inside.

  4. Hi! Though I am only an occasional visitor (I bookmarked your blog under "Blogs I enjoy reading") I did want to say thank you for the Librivox link--it is incredible and I'm unhappy that I'd not heard if it before. I'm goingt o volunteer to do some recording for them as well.

    Thanks so much!