Here’s my shocking homeschool mom confession for today: I don’t like reading aloud.

I mean, I like it in theory. I just don’t like doing it.

Darren does enjoy reading aloud. Over the years, he’s read the Little House books, James Herriot stories, P.G. Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters, the Narnia books, Harry Potter, and nonfiction books like What If? and Stuff Matters. The kids like listening to him, and they’ve spent many happy evenings listening to good books.

So where does that leave me? Well, I like telling stories—and that, I think, is just as important.

Storytelling is a much older skill than reading aloud. Its legacy remains in Bible stories like Esther and Samson, where you can easily imagine a storyteller sitting before a flickering fire and orating the grand monologues, playing up the repeating elements, and shouting the dramatic moments.

But when I began telling stories to my children, I was pretty bad at it. I discovered big gaps in my knowledge. I’d get halfway through Goldilocks and the Three Bears and wonder . . . how does this end? Does a lumberjack rescue her? Does she get eaten by a wolf? Forced to spin straw into gold? In those early years, I checked out lots of books of fairy tales and nursery rhymes—not to read aloud, but to refresh what I thought I knew.

Next, I had to learn to tell the story. It takes a little more mental agility than just reading words on a page. It’s very easy to forget key details: “Oh, wait, I forgot, first Goldilocks eats their porridge, and then sits in their chairs.”  “So then Gideon told the men to break the pitchers and yell. . . . Did I mention that they had torches and pitchers? No?” Fortunately I had an eager and forgiving audience.

After a lot of practice, I developed a large repertoire of well-polished stories, all of which are part of the fabric of our culture. That’s education!

Emboldened by my success, I branched out into making up my own stories. With such a young audience, I learned keep the stories short and stick to a formula. My biggest hits were “the J stories.” These short episodes involved very, very naughty people called “the J’s” (so called because all their names start with J). Each story went like this: 

One day, Ranger got a call from the library. The librarians said, “Help! The J’s are here and they’re doing really bad things!” So Ranger grabbed his blue and silver sword and jumped on his really fast horse, and dashed off to stop the J’s!

Do you know what those J’s were doing? They were tearing up all the books! Ripping out pages and stomping on them and throwing mud on them! Ranger ran inside and said, “J’s, you stop that!”

The J’s said, “We don’t want to!”

“Okay, then, I’ll make you stop!”

[Then I’d tell a pretty sketchy description of an action scene, which usually involved throwing something and knocking all the J’s down. Action scenes are not my strong point.]

The police came and got the J’s. The librarians were so happy that they gave Ranger twenty books about monster trucks.

The end.

These simple stories had it all. Heroism, really terrible behavior, fighting and conquering, and a reward at the end. The J’s invaded grocery stores, disrupted church services, interfered in parades, chased pets, played in the street, . . . and every time a heroic kid would help right the wrongs they perpetrated. Variations on this theme could fill up a month’s worth of bedtimes. Which they did, in fact.

As the kids got older, they stopped asking for J stories. Instead, they enjoyed hearing family stories. I searched my memories, talked with Darren, and listened to my parents and in-laws to gather stories to tell my children. These less stylized but more personal stories not only entertained them; they helped form their family identity. That’s education again!

If you’re a reader, taking time to read aloud to your family creates memories that will last their whole lives. If you’re a storyteller, your voice and your imagination will inspire your children and even your grandchildren. Both are entertaining, educational, and create bonds that draw a family together.

And—once you brush up on how Goldilocks ends—teach children that if you’re going to break and enter, you’d best be prepared to hustle your bustle when the homeowners show back up.

—Sara