by Karen Koch

Readers are learners.

A large portion of our homeschool day involves reading aloud. We have Bible, history, art, math, science, music, and more, but really enjoy our read-alouds as a family, both morning and evening. Not only does the shared reading build family bonds and memories, but books are the open door to discovery on many levels if you take the time to answer your children’s questions and run down a few rabbit holes with them.

Children become readers on the laps of their parents. Emilie Buchwald

I firmly believe that reading aloud to your children is one of the best things you can do academically for them. Lifelong readers are lifelong learners. I want to instill deeply in my children that they can read to learn about almost anything they want to know. Reading can be the starting place for anything they may want to pursue in life. Here are a few of our recent read-alouds and the conversation and discovery they have sparked. We have launched our two oldest sons into college and beyond, but still have two in homeschool. This is just a sampling of what we learned in our last few read-alouds.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain — What is whitewash? What’s a corn-cob pipe and what does it look like? What does the Mississippi River look like? How long is it? Are there lots of caves in Missouri? What else did Mark Twain write? What did he look like? Was this book written before or after the Civil War? (And some fun family conversations: Grandma was from Missouri. Mom remembers visiting Hannibal, Missouri once, Mark Twain’s home. We once visited the newspaper office in Virginia City, NV where Mark Twain worked during the Civil War).

Nothing to Fear by Jackie French Koller — What started the Depression? What does it mean to “jump a train”? What is a “wake” when someone dies? What’s a taxidermist? What does an Irish accent look/sound like in writing? How long did the Depression last? What is the significance of the book title as related to President Roosevelt? How many times did Roosevelt get elected? (We even looked up the electoral college maps to show Roosevelt’s four victories). Can anyone be elected President four times now and why not? Did the author write other stories we can read? (More family conversation: Grandpa and Grandma were born during the Depression. Grandpa remembers food ration stamps.)

Call of the Wild by Jack London — Was there a Gold Rush in the Klondike too? When? What are traces and what does a dog sled look like? Were dogs really stolen along the West Coast to be sold to those rushing for gold? What does a St. Bernard look like? Why is gold so valuable? What does the word “wont” mean (Jack London uses it a lot). Do pack dogs really have hierarchy like that? (More family stories: Uncle John lives in Alaska. Jack London had a home not too far from where we used to live in California).

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by  E. L. Konigsburg — What does that museum look like? Is it a real place? Is the Michelangelo statue real or did the author make it up? What did Michelangelo’s stamp/mark look like? Where was Michelangelo from and when? What’s an automat? How do you rent a PO box? What museums should WE go visit, Mom?

We googled images of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, St. Bernard dogs, sled dogs, Depression-era photos, Mark Twain, Michelangelo. . .we checked the maps for Missouri, the Mississippi, New York City, Santa Clara Valley, and the Klondike.

And probably, most importantly, several deeper, more spiritual conversations came up:

We talked about slavery at length, and the varying viewpoints of the time.
Was Tom Sawyer’s rebellious behavior how we should act?
Was Tom brave when he saved Becky from the cave?
Would we share our food during the Depression if we were hungry too? Was it right for the children to beg when they were hungry?
Did the men in Call of the Wild treat their animals appropriately? How should the dogs have been treated?
Should you EVER run away for any reason, and why not (my main objection to the Mixed-Up Files story)?

These are perhaps the weightier and more significant questions and reasons to navigate deep thoughts with your children. Reading aloud offers these teachable moments.

Here are a few ways to enjoy your read-alouds more with the kids.

  1. Let them move or play quietly if it helps them listen longer. Legos, blocks, drawing, coloring, etc.
  2. Start short and simple. I promise their listening capacity will increase if you’re patient and pick engaging stories. I’ve been at it for 20 years now. My kids got less squirmy as they got older, but my youngest was soldier crawling around on the floor tonight during reading time, and accidentally kicked a full cup of coffee over. . .alas. But they still beg for another chapter.
  3. Be age-appropriate. Know your children’s sensitivities, listening capacity, and emotional maturity. I generally read to the middle of the kids’ age range, with some forays higher and lower. For awhile the youngest got a lot of his own read-alouds with mom.
  4. Look up the settings of your read-alouds in the atlas or online. Google images so the kids can “see” notable places or things in the stories.
  5. Look up images, videos, or find more resources about any central or side topics that interest your kids. (We watched some documentaries on westward expansion after reading about Lewis and Clark recently, and also some from the Native American perspective).
  6. If applicable, view or read a different version AFTER reading–Classic Comic, DVD, play on stage. Compare and contrast. It’s forbidden in our house to watch the movie first–we generally agree that the book is always better, but this teaches some discernment and comparison skills. You may want to preview.
  7. Find out more about the author and check out other books he/she wrote if you enjoyed it.
  8. Don’t be surprised if they read the book again. I am amazed at how many times one of the kids has re-read a story we’ve read aloud. It’s more accessible after they know the story, and they catch more the second go-round.
  9. Always be willing to stop and answer any questions. I make my kids raise their hands or let me get to the end of a paragraph or thought. The kids will need words defined and things explained (i.e., telegraph, bound feet in China, Pony Express, how a dogsled works). I even learned a new word in Nothing to Fear: seanachie, a Gaelic historian/storyteller.
  10. Remember this is NOT wasted time. You are giving your children many lifelong learning tools: vocabulary, history, pronunciation, research skills, cultural literacy, and emotional knowledge.
  11. Don’t stop reading aloud just because your kids can read by themselves. I believe this is a big mistake parents make. Your children can tackle increasingly higher level subjects and reading difficulty as they grow up. Do this with them.
  12. I promise it will be worth it. My second son (18) was home from college for spring break recently. It made my heart happy when I noticed him listening in to read-aloud time.

Karen Koch wishes she could get paid to read all day. Reading aloud to the kids has been one of her most fulfilling tasks in life. She suggests using Sonlight Curriculum or Veritas Press’ reading lists as great sources of read-alouds. She has taught classes on Newbery winner books and Dr. Seuss classics at her homeschool co op.

Join us at the 34th Annual CHEA Convention July 13-15, 2017 at the Pasadena Convention Center.