On September 11, 2001 I watched a little of the horrible news, visited family, waited for word on some family…then we went to the library, gathered some books and we spent the day reading aloud. I’m a woman. I don’t do fight or flight all of the time. Frequently I duck and cover. I gather those I love and keep them with me. It was my way of ensuring that beautiful life continued, a life worth protecting. Nothing is more cozy and wonderful to me than having my whole family gathered around as we read together. I love that feeling. Some of my favorite moments from public school were my teacher reading aloud. I still hear Ma, from Little House on the Prairie in Miss Crie’s voice. Reading aloud as a family has given our family its own culture, with allusions and language all our own. We can relate to characters. When we talk with our children we have a whole world of literary works to pull from and to use as examples or sources. Learning from someone else’s mistakes and choosing to be inspired from someone else’s amazingness is a fabulous way to learn. It’s so much more expansive than relying on your own experiences, and so much less painful!
I used to imagine read alouds with my children sitting nicely and quietly while I read. Then I had children. Now when my children sit quietly for too long, I take their temperature and consider herbs or medicine until they are moving around again. It takes ingenuity and determination to develop a family habit of reading aloud together.
Choose a good book- I ask teachers and librarians for read aloud suggestions. I’ve asked strangers for book recommendations. I love finding a new, good read aloud. Classics can be ruined by introducing them too soon. Many of the books I struggled through in high school I have since loved. Don’t be afraid to stop a book if you discover it’s too soon, and wait until later. Inexplicably, some books will just not work. Let them fail. Either come back to them another time…or don’t. Read books you love! Your enthusiasm will be contagious.
Set yourself up for success- I have found a variety of ways to keep little and big hands busy while we read:
Quiet toys: Legos, blocks, and puzzles are my favorites. I have found that ponies and houses and Polly Pockets tend towards chatty little girls and a frustrated mommy.
Read while you drive. Theoretically this works. I can’t read in a car while I’m pregnant. My husband falls asleep if I read too long in the car. Me nauseous and him falling asleep while driving does not make for a happy family drive. Then again, not everyone is pregnant this often, and most people enjoy books on tape while they drive… this may work for you.
Handiwork: knitting, hat looms, crochet, bracelets, wood carving and hand sewing. My sons and daughters both have learned basic handiwork skills.
In some cases I have found something for them to watch. I don’t do this often, and I try to make it a unique experience. I don’t want it to be a standard video; it changes the experience. While we read 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, we watched this slide show of underwater photography. While reading Guardians of Ga’hoole we watched the barn owl Molly. Is there something you can watch that relates to your book?
When desperate: With an exceptionally active toddler I have made play dough, read in my bedroom with the toddler in the bath, set the toddler up at the kitchen sink with bubbles and planned to mop the floor… Find something that will work for you.
Plan for interruptions. Expect it. If possible, keep in mind what your intention is. Is it your life goal to finish this book or have loving children? Do not forget the forest for the trees. The ultimate goal is to have loving children. This means I need to be loving. I need to respond to interruptions kindly. I need to go with the potty training child who still needs a cheering section, change the diaper, save the baby from climbing on the table and whatever other interruption. Some days will be interruption-filled.
Discuss what you read-sometimes we discuss as we read. There is a synergistic nature about a group discussion and the unique learning opportunities. Some discussions have happened while we read. Many, many more discussions have happened as we drive, or most frequently as we fold laundry or do the dishes. Some of these chore-based discussions have been one-on-one. Those discussions are priceless to me. They have strayed far from the book to sex ed, character, family, politics, honesty, hard work, and love.
When to read– I know many families read before bed. When the alternative is sleep, children are remarkably willing to sit and listen. Bless their amazingness. I am a morning person. In the afternoon or evening remarkable things happen to my brain: my eyes just close or I start “dream reading” in which my brain works in whatever it can into the story. Pick a time that works for you. When you are consistent, and your children learn to expect a read aloud, their ability to sit and listen improves. Making time to read includes warding off outside distractions. Turn your phone off! Chose to not schedule anything else during that time unless absolutely necessary.
What happens when you don’t like reading aloud- Does it help to pick shorter books? Do both parents not enjoy it? Can you listen to books on tape as you travel or as you work together? Can you take turns reading aloud with your older children? What about starting a family book club and reading the book on your own? Can you read and share the stories from what you are reading?
A good read aloud can impact every aspect of your education. We are currently reading Gaurdians of Ga’Hoole. We have talked about biology as we’ve discussed owls and their habits and habitats. We’ve discussed the difference between how owls grow and humans grow. We’ve talked about history and how come groups of people want to take over the world and how they plan to do it. We’ve talked math as we’ve discussed how fast owls fly and how many days it would take to get places if they could maintain that speed. We’ve talked about using the moon as your calendar and how many moons old we are. We’ve talked about English as we discuss vocabulary and point of view. What we read naturally creeps into our own writing. We’ve become owls, drawn owls and made claws for our fingers. Those claws are everywhere! We’ve made nests in laundry baskets.
We’ve talked about bullies and how they maintain their power. We’ve talked about education and what kind of education tends towards freedom and what tends towards captivity.
Very little of this learning was planned or scheduled. It frequently begins without me. I love when a child comes to me begging to do math, under the guise of figuring out how many moons they are. It’s a powerful way to learn, as the child sees it as play and will remember it better with the emotional connection to the book.
When a family reads together, it teaches that books are fun. It teaches that learning is a life-long endeavor. It teaches in a quiet, patient way that combats the instant gratification around us.
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewel and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be-
I had a mother who read to me.
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Britt grew up in a family of six brothers and one sister and gained a bonus sister later. She camped in the High Sierras, canoed down the Colorado, and played volleyball at Brigham Young University. She then served a mission to South Africa. With all of her time in the gym and the mountains and South Africa, she was totally prepared to become the mother of 2 sons and soon to be 9 daughters. By totally prepared she means willing to love them and muddle through everything else in a partially sleepless state. She is mostly successful at figuring out how to keep the baby clothed, or at least diapered, though her current toddler is challenging this skill. She feels children naturally love to learn and didn’t want to disrupt childhood curiosity with worksheets and school bells. She loves to play in the dirt, read books, go on adventures, watch her children discover new things, and mentor her children. Her oldest child is currently at a community college and her oldest son is going to high school at a public school. She loves to follow her children in their unique paths and interests. She loves to write because, unlike the laundry and the dishes, writing stays done. Whenever someone asks her how she does it all she wonders what in the world they think she’s doing.