In the busyness of everyday life with children in the home, do you ever stop to think about: What are the most important things you do? Sure, you have to bathe and dress the little dears, clip their fingernails and trim their bangs. They need good food and a warm, dry place to sleep. The list of important things to do goes on and on, at the risk of neglecting some important things that are not so obvious.
Space does not permit a lengthy essay on all the things that are important in family life. However, I will offer my thoughts on one thing that I do believe is important. Twenty-eight years of motherhood confirms this thing, so I figure it is worth sharing.
What is this thing? Reading aloud to my children.
It started with the oldest child, a blonde-haired, green-eyed toddler. Before the age of one we sat down with picture books, pointed to the animals, and made the sounds. At her first birthday party, she entertained the guests by slamming a book on their knees and demanding, “Uh book.” The years passed. I moved from the recliner to the couch to make room for the children perched around to see the pictures.
Reading aloud has been a foundational source of memories for our family. Academic benefits aside, the atmosphere benefits are irreplaceable. Everyone gathered around the fireplace on a cold, rainy day, hot chocolate in hand, snuggled under the covers and listening to a great book.
Reading aloud is my single most favorite memory-making activity as a mother.
Was it always easy? No. We wrangled toddlers and settled arguments over seating preferences. Diapers had to be changed in the middle of the exciting part and the phone rang. (Actually, we set a rule of not answering the phone during school hours. I don’t call people at work and they shouldn’t call me at mine.) We started some books and laid them aside in boredom. Life is too short to read boring books.
Reading aloud together fulfills a multitude of purposes. Academic knowledge, shared experiences, physical closeness, concentration, comprehension, spiritual lessons and character discussions, all rolled into one.
Sometimes we got busy and reading aloud fell by the wayside. Things got out of sorts. Everyone went his or her separate ways. They continued to read to themselves but it just wasn’t the same. Coming together again over a good book was like a family reunion, and the effects on family life were far-reaching. We’ve been out to sea with Captain Bowditch and in a concentration camp with Corrie ten Boom. We’ve traveled with Bilbo to the realms of the goblins, and skated on the canals with Hans Brinker. Occasionally we ate a meal together with a theme related to the current book. Shared food added to the rich experience.
If you’d like to begin or return to this family tradition, here are a few ideas to help:
Choose a good book. Sounds simple, but don’t go for twaddle like The Berenstain Bears or Twilight. You can’t go wrong with classics like The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia (the book, not the movie!). We referred to homeschool curriculum catalogs like Sonlight for reading lists, or books like Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson. There are great books for all ages, from Peter Rabbit to The Good Master.
Make it a ritual. Get out the favorite quilts, make some hot chocolate or tea. Unplug the phone, turn off the TV and relax together.
Read with expression. Use character voices and sound effects. Change your voice with the rise and fall of the conversation and punctuation. It takes practice, but it makes the book so much more enjoyable. You might even discover that you’re an actor at heart.
If you start a book and don’t like it, put it away.
Guard the time for reading aloud. We read aloud as one of the first priorities of the school day. Yes, I mean in the morning, before math. It is so important and so foundational to our academic and family life, that it receives a place of prominence in the day’s schedule. You might find that afternoon or evening works best for your family. Just make sure it gets done.
I would argue that reading aloud is the single most important academic benefit you’ll give your family, no matter where they receive their education. They absorb patterns of language, comprehension of ideas and the fabric of cultures. When asked about the greatest advantage of home education that prepared them for college academics, my grown children answered “wide reading.” This included both their personal reading and the years of reading aloud as a family.
Of all the experiences of motherhood, reading aloud remains one of the sweetest. I don’t regret one moment of reading aloud to my children. I never wish we would have spent more time watching TV. Don’t let the good things you do get in the way of the best things you can do.