What are some of your favorite memories from homeschooling? For HSLDA blogger Julie Schnatterly, reading together with her kids is at the top of the list. Discover the benefits of reading aloud on today’s Home School Heartbeat with your host Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: My guest this week is Julie Schnatterly. She’s a grant administrator for the Home School Foundation, a guest writer on HSLDA’s blog, and a homeschooling mom. Julie, welcome to the program!
Julie Schnatterly: Hi Mr. Smith, thank you for having me!
Mike: Well Julie, back in May, you wrote a blog post about the importance of family reading time. Now what inspired you to write that?
Julie: Well, reading together with my children, and sharing books, and engrossing ourselves in the story together is one of the best memories that I have of homeschooling my children, who are all young adults now.
Mike: Why do you think it’s so important for parents to read together with their children?
Julie: It creates a shared experience. So, we meet characters in books and go places together, and we make memories. And we developed through that experience this language of common knowledge that became a part of our family culture. So even though the children are older, we still have references to books or stories or people that we met, and it’s kind of woven into that fabric of our family.
Mike: Can you give us a little example of how this actually worked?
Julie: We would take just a quiet time, maybe an hour after lunch, or when the kids were too old to take a nap and they just needed some quiet time to settle, and just sit and read together. We would read in the evening, at the park, wherever it just seemed to be a good place—where we could just sit together and read stories.
Mike: In your blog post, you talk about growing up in a family that never read together. So how did you discover the joy of reading aloud?
Julie: In the early days when I was just getting started as a homeschool mom, I was a little overwhelmed by all of the things that needed to take place to educate my children at home. And like so many moms just getting started, I was worried that I would mess things up, and a good friend told me that I would never do wrong by my kids if I just read with them. And she encouraged me to just spend time reading together.
Mike: Many parents may want to read together with their children, but are wondering where to begin. How did you get started reading aloud, and what advice do you have for parents who want to do the same?
Julie: One of the ladies in our homeschool group hosted a book discussion, and we read a book called Rabbit Hill together, and my kids loved it, and after we did that, we just were kind of hooked on reading aloud together. And then she followed up by loaning a book to me called Honey For a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt—very helpful for Christian homeschooling parents who want to find some good resources. Librarians are very helpful in finding book selections, and the Sonlight catalog is amazing for choosing living books.
Mike: Julie, what do you enjoy most about reading as a family?
Julie: Oh, in the busyness of the day, it was just a time where we got to be together. Everyone sat still and we connected over these great stories that we were reading. And we made friends with characters, and learned about places and periods of history that, even now, it’s a point of connection for my children and myself.
Mike: What are some of your favorite books that your family read aloud—and why?
Julie: Oh, we’ve read so many books over the years, we’ve read classics that everyone is familiar with, like The Little House on the Prairie series, and The Chronicles of Narnia, but there were less–known stories, missionary biographies like Torches of Joy. When the kids were small we really loved a series about missionaries called Heroes: Then & Now. It introduced them to heroes of the faith like Corrie Ten Boom and Amy Carmichael and George Mueller, and those were just short stories. And as they got older we read books with harder topics, like The Hiding Place and Joni and The Diary of Anne Frank.
Mike: Julie, when you say your family read together, did you do all the reading, or did the children also participate?
Julie: Occasionally, one of the older children would volunteer to read if I wasn’t feeling well or just because they wanted to, but most of the time they liked to listen to mom read, and that was just how that worked for our family.
Mike: Well, that’s outstanding, Julie, thank you for that.
Julie, we know that some books just seem to be made for reading aloud—and others are not. What makes a good read-aloud book, in your opinion?
Julie: I personally found The Lord of the Rings books difficult to read; they were great stories, but I stumbled over unfamiliar names of characters and cities, so much that we kind of scrapped that as a read–aloud. That was a great book to read by yourself. But any book that you enjoy reading could potentially be a great read–aloud, and a parent that reads with energy and enthusiasm can pull their children into just about any story.
Mike: So with that in mind, what should parents keep in mind as they look for good books to read aloud to their kids?
Julie: I’m going to share a quote with you: C.S. Lewis said that “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten, which is not equally worth reading at the age of fifty.” I enjoyed the books that we read so much, and often I enjoyed them more than my children. They spanned six years in age from oldest to youngest, but I found that even my youngest child would be very aware of what was happening in our story, even stories that I would have thought would be beyond him.
So I would say, don’t target the choices to your children’s reading level. Allow your child to experience the development of a good story beyond what they would be able to read themselves. So if you’re just getting started, and your children are younger, you might want to start with some short stories. You just kind of grow that, as they grow.
Mike: Did you guys discuss the books after you read them?
Julie: Oh yes, we had so many conversations!
Mike: Did you have them write reports on the books?
Julie: Sometimes, but most of our read–alouds—they had schoolwork, they had books they were reading themselves that they would report on. These were just more for us, they were more relaxing, enjoying, more of entertainment value, but they were getting a lesson alongside of that, so for us it was separated from their schoolwork, per se.
Mike: Julie, some parents have trouble finding the time to read together as a family. What are some ways that parents can get creative with reading aloud?
Julie: I think that if you’re committed to reading aloud as a family, you’ll make time for it, like anything else. We tried various things through the years; the schedules would change and our children would get older, and sometimes after lunch there was an hour of quiet time that provided a perfect opportunity for rest. And sometimes in the evenings instead of screen time, it was a great way to segue into their bedtime routine. We also listened to books on tape in the car. There’s lots of places; if it’s important enough you’ll find that place that works really well for your family and your routine.
Mike: How can homeschool parents inspire and encourage a love of reading in their children?
Julie: I think that parents need to let children see them read, we have to model what we think is important, and life is busy, and it feels like a luxury to take the time to sit and relax with a good book. But when you read aloud with your children, you’re modeling the importance of reading, and it promotes togetherness, it encourages a habit that makes your children lifelong learners.
Mike: Julie, thanks so much for being with us this week, it’s really been encouraging. Reading together is something all of us can do—and can be so fun and beneficial for our children. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.