Reading aloud to our kids is one of the unique pleasures of home education. I hope that you read aloud to your children. I hope you do it every day. Some moms may ask, “Why not encourage our kids to read to themselves? Isn’t that the goal?”
Certainly we want our kids to be competent, independent readers. But there’s more to reading than being able to do it alone. Reading aloud is about a shared family experience. It’s like the difference between going to a movie alone or with your husband. Reading to self is nurturing and wonderful. You lose yourself in the story and the act of reading is soothing and enriching. Kids absorb good syntax, they are repeatedly exposed to proper spelling and punctuation, they encounter a variety of attitudes about life and death, faithfulness and betrayal, good and evil. They reflect on these ideas by themselves as they read and they process the plot complications and make internal guesses about where the plot is going. This is all good and necessary.
Reading aloud offers another benefit. When you read aloud to your kids, you are creating a shared history. When you process a story with your children, when you anticipate the crisis and guess what the resolution will be, when you like some characters more than others, when you compare one story to another, these discussions and memories actually shape your family history as much as they influence your children’s “literary education.” Together, your family forges a moral identity, a family cultural literacy and a slew of inside jokes.
Isn’t this what happens when you go to a movie with your husband and then head over to Barnes and Nobles for coffee afterwards? Don’t you start immediately comparing movies, actors and stories? Guessing who will be nominated for Oscars and so on?
When you read aloud to your children, you work out together who is a good guy and who isn’t. You decide together why you trust some characters and why others make you nervous: why do we all love Professor Lupin but still can’t quite count on Professor Snape? You’ll find yourselves comparing the protagonists of two similar stories: How is Caddie Woodlawn like Laura Ingalls Wilder? How is she different?
Young kids will love being read to. It creates a feeling of coziness. Bring cuddly blankets, light a fire (in winter) and make sure everyone has a pillow. Or for kids with busy hands, dump out a box of Legos or blocks and let your young ones build while they listen. They can also color coloring pages or knit or crochet while you read.
There comes a time when your older kids lose interest in being read to. When that day comes, though a sad one, if you’ve had years of reading to your children, it won’t be as hard to bear. I’ve also found that teens will “drop in” for a chapter here and there is the book is good and there’s food on the table.