One of my favorite childhood family activities was gathering around to read aloud together. My dad was usually the reader when I was younger. With the little kids, he was known for reading Curious George books . . . and changing the story entirely to make us (or my mom) laugh. But once we were old enough to handle chapter books, he would read The Chronicles of Narnia. Granted, he was so busy and tired that he would often start falling asleep mid-chapter, but we would all shout, “Way, way, way for the Tarkheena!” to get him to wake up and continue.
Later, one of my older sisters took over this read-aloud tradition with other books. (The ones I remember best were The Hobbit and part of Lord of the Rings.) After that, I became the reader. I read many books to my youngest sister (Little House on the Prairie books, Anne of Green Gables series, etc.), a few to my younger brothers, and some to all six of my younger siblings (we finally finished Lord of the Rings). The Narnia books came in again at some point as well.
Suffice it to say, reading aloud played a significant part of my childhood, and I always imagined I would read numerous books aloud to my own children. And then I became a mom . . . and I suddenly realized why my own mother was not the usual reader in our household. I mean, I did pretty well with picture books when my children were too little to read on their own. (I still have Are You My Mother? mostly memorized.) But I never got to the point of regularly reading chapter books as they got older. At different points I tried reading aloud in the evenings or at bedtime, but we never stuck with it. My past self would be quite shocked that my oldest is 13 and still hasn't read (or heard) all the Narnia books yet.
So this year, I decided to change that. Following a suggestion from one of my sisters (the same one who used to read to me), I've begun starting our school day by reading a chapter or two of a children's novel aloud to my kids (currently Narnia, of course). We are four weeks into the school year and have already completed one half-finished book, read the second, and are just beginning our third for the year. Having it on our official school schedule means we are actually doing it, at least most days. At this rate, I'll need to pick another series soon!
You may ask why I think reading aloud is so important. We all know the benefits of reading to children before they can read independently, but why is it necessary once they can read themselves? Well, as you might imagine, part of it is simply the sharing of a tradition that I knew and loved. But I think there are other reasons to begin this tradition even if it wasn't a part of your own childhood.
First of all, it's a great parent-child bonding time. Families can read aloud for the same reasons they might have movie nights: to share the experience of exploring a story together. You might pass on a favorite book from your childhood, discover a new book together, or even learn more about a series that your child enjoys. Regardless, you have the opportunity to share the humor, the sorrows, and the adventure of another world together.
Speaking of other worlds, reading aloud might open a new world for your child that they might not tackle on their own. Besides introducing something beyond their reading level, you might inspire a new interest. I'll admit, I myself will often receive book and movie recommendations by running in the opposite direction. I love re-reading books I already know or finally starting books I've wanted to read for a long time. It takes me a while to warm up to anything new. But my husband has talked me into various books, movies, and TV shows by watching them with me or talking with me about them afterward. There are quite a few I've enjoyed that I probably never would have touched otherwise!
Another benefit of reading to my kids is that I simply find it fun! I love using different voices for each character, trying out new accents, and dramatizing the narration. Of course, not everyone will enjoy this—if this isn't your cup of tea, you might consider employing one of your children who is interested in drama. But it is definitely enjoyable to me, and I'd like to think that makes it more fun for my kids as well.
And because it's fun, we've been finding it much easier to get each school day started. Since reading has been the first thing on our daily schedule, there has been far less dragging of feet (them) and getting distracted (me), which helps prevent the delays that have so often plagued our school days in the past. Reading aloud is an easy and enjoyable way to begin the day, and it motivates us all to get started.
Not sure what to read? I have mentioned several ideas in this post, but if you need more, I suggest looking up a list of “100 children's books to read in a lifetime.” There are several different versions of this list, but they have many of the same books in common. Most of these should be a great place to start!
And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go introduce my children to their first Tarkheena. Until next time!
Photo credit: Images courtesy of author.