When establishing a family culture around books that everyone can enjoy it can be a bit difficult to find a happy medium. The one thing to keep in mind is that everyone, no matter the age, enjoys a good story. We humans were made for stories! Now I’ve spent hours reading blogs, articles, and books by reading experts trying to come up with the grand solution to cultivating a family culture around reading. As you may have guessed, there is no one simple formula out there. Now to be fair, I’m only in my 9th year of parenting and so to many my family of three may seem small or even simple to manage than say a larger family or a family with children spread out at different life stages. Every family will have to find their own “reading culture”. I am only offering a few simple tips that have proven helpful for me and my little family thus far.
- Bedtime: this has just always been something we’ve done together as a family. The evening is also an opportunity for my husband to read aloud. Being that I am with the children all the time it is good for them to experience stories with their daddy as well.
- Lunchtime/Dinner: I like to read during meal time after I’ve finished my own meal. This is especially a nice time because the children are busy doing something (eating!) and listening to a story is a pleasant way to enjoy one’s company after a long day or morning of lessons.
- Teatime: We enjoy an afternoon time set aside to have tea (or hot chocolate, a cold glass of milk, ice tea etc) and a treat. It’s a way to coral everybody back to one spot and take a moment to snack, breathe, and wrap up a busy afternoon of play or activities. While the children look forward to this time for the obvious offering of treats they enjoy listening to some poetry and hearing more of their current favorite character’s adventures.
- Car rides: We LOVE listening to books while driving around to our various errands and activities. For us this is not the same as reading aloud at home but is another way to hear a story. I like it mostly because it keeps the children busy listening to something instead of usual bickering and fighting that flares up when sitting next to your favorite sibling in a car.
- Younger families: choose chapter books that have a few simple drawings or pictures with chapters you can finish in one or two sittings. Books that offer long descriptions and lengthly dialogue will most likely loose your children’s attention and excitement. Likewise books that offer elaborate pictures (or more pictures than words) take away from the story and the child’s imagination. For example, instead of starting the Little House on the Prairie series with Little House in the Big Woods, which tends to have longer chapters and loads of descriptions, we started with Farmer Boy. Once the children were hooked with Farmer Boy it was much easier to move on to the rest of the series.
- Engage with your listeners: when you’re reading try to engage your young listeners by looking away from the page and at them. Maybe even use one of your free hands to describe something that may be large or scary. And for the sake of all that is good and holy don’t use your monotone voice!
- Stop before the action: Yes, that’s right, stop before the action in the storyline. Give your listeners something to hold on to. Let them wait in anticipation for the next time you read. Engage with them on what they think is going to happen or why something happened.
- Keep a time limit: When the children are younger it is especially important to keep track of the time you spend reading, especially chapter books with little or no pictures. After about 10 minutes their attention will start to wane. Young children need need time to think about what they’ve heard or experienced in listening to a story. Be careful then to make sure they aren’t overloaded with too much “story” or they will start to loose interest all together.
- Discuss: Of course I must pay tribute to Miss Masons’s amazing tool of narration. While narration plays a critical role in our school lessons, it is equally important in other areas of life. For family read-alouds I don’t tend to ask for a formal narration. I do, however, try to encourage a few minutes of discussing what we’ve just read. I try to say as little as possible and let the children lead the discussion amongst themselves. I will almost always ask someone to remind me where we left off last time we read. This not only helps me it also allows them a chance to share what they remember.
- STOP: Sometimes a book that you’re reading aloud just simply doesn’t work or click. We’ve started numerous books that I’ve simply decided right in the middle of mid-sentence were not the right fit. Sometimes the language is too foul (yes, even in children’s books), the topic is too heavy or boring, or sometimes we all plain don’t like the story. There are millions of books out there waiting to be read, some are a pure delight while some are simply horrible. And some books are just meant to be read alone or another time in one’s life.
Resources for the Read Aloud Family:
- Read-Aloud Revival: This is the site that I share with everyone, even strangers at the library, in search of children books. Here you will find everything you didn’t know you needed to know about reading aloud. Sarah MacKenzie has amazing podcast as well. Honestly just listening to her bubbly voice talk about books and reading is all I need to brighten a dismal day. She offers far more tips and resources than I could even begin to list here, I will only offer a few that have been invaluable to me:
- What Stories Does My Son Need? A Guide to Books and Movies that Build Character in Boys
- Honey For a Child’s Heart
- Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature
- The Read Aloud Handbook
- Reading Aloud: Why Reading Aloud to our children will change their lives forever
- My very humble list of some of my children’s favorite read-alouds can be found here.