The Gift of Reading Aloud

If someone were to ask me what the key to a successful homeschool is, my first answer would be prayer. Homeschooling is far too hard to attempt to do it without God. My second answer would be to read aloud to your children from the time they are babies.

I have such fond memories of reading to my children. Yes, there were certainly moments in which it was a trial. There were times when they were little when we read the same book over and over again until I may have wanted to “lose” that book forever. No matter how much I tried, I could not muster any enthusiasm for reading The Star Wars Dictionary or the Pokémon Handbook aloud. There were times when I was so exhausted that I would nod off right in the middle of a sentence (and my children would shake me awake).

Yet, despite those few moments when reading aloud was less than a pleasure, the benefits and positive experiences far outweighed any discomfort I may have had on a limited basis. Sharing stories with children not only exposes our children to the wonders of literature, a wealth of vocabulary, and encourages a love of reading, it helps build our relationship with our children.

A successful homeschool experience can only happen if there is a positive relationship between parent and child. If that relationship is strained or antagonistic, encouraging children to learn will be an uphill battle of wills. Reading aloud can create a time set aside in your day when your relationship is nourished. Cuddling together under a cozy blanket with a story or reading a bedtime story on a regular basis can be a time that both parents and children look forward to. In The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, Meghan Cox Gurdon states, “The act of reading together secures people to one another creating order and connection, as if we were quilt squares tacked together with threads made of stories.”

There are times when it seems as if reading aloud is a futile activity. Is your baby who is more interested in eating the board book really getting anything out of this time? What about the high-energy child who continues to bounce around the room while you read, or the non-verbal autistic child who doesn’t seem to be taking anything in? The answer is yes. Even in those challenging situations, there are benefits to reading aloud. Babies learn to value books for more than oral stimulation. The high-energy child may listen better when moving. The autistic child may be taking in much more than you will ever know. They all benefit from spending the time with you. You need not worry that you are not enough. As Gurdon reminds us: “There is no genius in Silicon Valley who has yet devised a machine half as effective for teaching and nurturing the young mind as a flawed, fallible, physically present human being.”

Reading aloud can help build relationship even in children who are older. There is no reason to stop reading aloud to children simply because they can read to themselves. A family read aloud can be a way for all members of a family to share a story and have fodder for conversation. An audio book can be listened to in the car and enjoyed by all present, turning car trips into something to look forward to rather than dreaded. Sharing a book with the whole family is also a great way to share the faith through reading saint biographies or faith-based fiction.

How can you add more time for reading aloud into your lives? If you can get up early enough to have breakfast before your children, reading to them while they eat breakfast can be a great way to start your day. As indicated above, listening to an audio book while in the car provides both entertainment and education. You can read to small children before they settle down for an afternoon nap. A family read aloud might take place after dinner. Before bed is a classic time to share a good story. These reading times don’t have to be long. Ten or twenty minute sessions add up quickly in cumulative effect. The point is to make reading aloud a priority and schedule it into your lives. It will soon be part of your routine that both you and your children will look forward to. The benefits will last a lifetime.

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Author: Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, editor of "Today's Catholic Homeschooling", is the mother of two biological sons and one adopted daughter. She is in her thirteenth year of homeschooling. She has a B.A. in History and Fine Art and a Master's Degree in Applied Theology. She is the author of "The Crash Course Guide to Catholic Homeschooling" and "The Power of Forgiveness". She blogs at spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com