One of the most beneficial activities we can do in our homeschools are read alouds. And I don’t mean just reading books to young children who aren’t reading to themselves, yet. I mean reading to ALL of our children throughout their entire childhoods.
I would go so far as to say if we were to do only one thing in our homeschools on a given day, a read aloud would give us the most bang for your buck. Not only are read alouds an easy activity to incorporate into our homeschools, but below are nine benefits to reading to our children no matter how old they are.
Hopefully after reading them you will be inspired to start or increase the use of read alouds in your homeschool!
Expose Your Children to Higher Level Texts
We read to young children because they can’t read themselves. This is an important reason to continue to read to older children…to read them books they aren’t ready to read themselves. Then, when it is time for them to pick up higher level texts they will be ready!
Read alouds allow children learning how to read in the younger grades to enjoy longer, more complex stories they wouldn’t be able to read themselves for a few more years. Upper elementary children who are reading can begin to absorb middle school books through read alouds. And middle schoolers can start to understand content-appropriate high school and adult books, preparing them for when they will read these books themselves.
Not only are we preparing our children to read higher level texts, but we are exposing them to stories and information that they would likely not encounter otherwise. This increases their knowledge of the world. Additionally, many children find classic books hard to read even if we think of them as age-appropriate. They are full of vocabulary that has fallen out of use and long passages of descriptive language. By reading these books to our children, they build skills to tackle these books on their own and discover the wonderful stories within.
For students with reading difficulties, read alouds become even more important. These students often won’t be able to read themselves books at a level that is interesting to them and that relates to their core academic work. Reading out loud to these children is crucial to facilitating their learning at an appropriate level.
Read Alouds Enrich Language Skills
By exposing our children to higher level texts, we help them learn more sophisticated language patterns. They hear longer, more complex sentences. The sentences contain higher level grammatical concepts than they will likely read on their own. There will be mulitple clauses in sentences woven together in a variety of ways.
As we read this richer text to our children, we naturally emphasize the more complex sentences in a way that helps our children understand them. Imagine if the following sentence from The Jungle Books was read by a child who was still working to decode some of the words and to determine the meaning of other words.
It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips. –The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling
Now imagine how we would read it with pauses and emphasis. We would likely place short pauses between each of the four actions the Father Wolf did to help our children understand that it is a list. He ‘woke’, ‘scratched’, ‘yawned’, and ‘spread out his paws’. We might emphasize words like ‘in’ so that our children understand the ‘Seeonee hills’ is a place. We might slow down slightly when we read “one after the other” to help our children imagine the slowness of stretching. All of this helps our child understand the sentence much more than if they were busy decoding and determining meanings of words and were not paying attention to the sentence as a whole.
Visualization of the Story
An important part of comprehending a story is to visualize what is happening. This includes visualizing the setting, the different characters, the events taking place and more. This skill comes easily to some children and harder to others. One way to help our children visualize the story is by stopping at the end of a particularly descriptive paragraph and describing what we are picturing. Narrating our thinking is a great strategy to help our children develop their thinking skills. For example, here is a paragraph from Anne of Green Gables…
A huge cherry-tree grew outside, so close that its boughs tapped against the house, and it was so thick-set with blossoms that hardly a leaf was to be seen. On both sides of the house was a big orchard, one of apple-trees and one of cherry-trees, also showered over with blossoms; and their grass was all sprinkled with dandelions. In the garden below were lilac-trees purple with flowers, and their dizzily sweet fragrance drifted up to the window on the morning wind. –Anne of Green Gables by LM Montegomery, Chapter 4.
To help our children visualize this scene, we can say something like “I can just imagine Anne sitting at her window looking out. I see the big tree right near the window covered in flowers. I wonder if she can reach out and touch it? Then I see many other fruit trees a little ways from the house and they are covered with flowers, too. The story tells us they are apple and cherry trees. Then I see grass with yellow dandelions all over the place. Close to the house again, I picture some gardens with small trees that have purple flowers on them. I can breathe in and almost smell all the different flowers.”
Our children might jump in and add to our descriptions as we are talking. If not, we can ask them what their favorite part of the scene is. Asking them for their ‘favorite’ part is less pressure than making them feel the need to give a full description. This is especially true if the picture in their head is fuzzy. Choosing their favorite part allows them to focus on just one part of the visualization.
Expand Vocabulary Knowledge
One of the main benefits and challenges of higher level texts is all the new words our kids will encounter! Learning these words will expand their vocabulary to help them read other texts and to speak and write in a more descriptive way. However, these words are a barrier at first to their comprehension when they are reading. Unknown words slow their reading down and leave them confused about what is happening.
Additionally, we all have experienced that moment where we go to say a word that we have only read before and realize we really don’t know how to pronounce it! Reading these words aloud to our children adds them to their vocabulary banks in the auditory section of their brains. Later when they encounter these words in books, they will have an idea how they are said. (You can learn more about how the brain learns to read here.)
For many new words, you may want to quickly define them and then just move ahead with the story. But, reading aloud also allows you to stop at some of these new, higher level words and discuss what they mean. I suggest only tackling a couple new words in depth per reading session. Otherwise, it will be too disruptive to following the story.
Read Alouds Build Listening Skills
Not only do read alouds build our children’s general comprehension and language skills. But they also give us an opportunity to develop our children’s overall listening skills.
Listening to information and making sense of it is a key skill. Whether it is in a work meeting, listening to the news on the radio, in a doctor’s appointment, or sitting in church, processing what we hear as adults is important. Read alouds strengthen this skill in children in a way that is enjoyable for them.
Not only does it give them practice, but it allows us as the parents to pause and help our children understand what was just read to them. We can ask basic questions such as “Who is this chapter about?”, “What is that person doing in this chapter?”, “Where do they go?”, “What do they want to happen?”, “What gets in their way?”, etc.
We might ask these questions throughout the chapter or at the end of a chapter. If our children have trouble answering us, we can give the answers and explain where in the text we read the information. We might reread a paragraph or two to help them hear the information again. However, we don’t want to spend too much time on this and turn reading the book into something laborius instead of enjoyable. Even if our children are missing some of the important details in a story, there is still great benefit in reading it to them.
Narration in the Charlotte Mason method of schooling is telling back in one’s own words what they just read or heard. We can model this skill when we read aloud to our children and then have them practice narration as well.
When we first start doing read alouds with our children, we can end each chapter by modeling a summary of the key points of the story. This summary should just be a few sentences long. When we learn to summarize it is important to know what to include in our summary AND what to leave out. So we need to model this for our children.
After we have modeled a short summary several times, we can ask our children if they would like a turn giving a summary of the chapter. If your children leave out some key details when they give their summary, ask some leading questions to remind them of what else needs to be included.
Develop Writing Skills
We have already discussed above how we can help our children understand more complex grammar and learn new vocabulary through read alouds. We have also talked about practicing narration with our books, which helps develop oral language skills.
But did you realize that read alouds will also improve our children’s writing skills? Read alouds provide them with models of sentences longer than those they are probably currently writing. The books we read contain examples of descriptive language and use different types of clauses organized in a complex manner. And don’t forget all of those new vocabulary words! All of these are elements that our children can add to their writing.
Read Alouds Connect Us As A Family
Not only do read alouds build all these great skills in our children, but they help us connect as a family. Let’s face it…it can be hard to find activities that engage everyone in a family. But a good story has the ability to draw everyone together. And not just during the time that is actually spent reading. It also gives our family members a common knowledge that we can relate back to at other times.
We may find people, places or happenings in our every day life that reminds someone in the family of a book we read together. Or we may find similarities between different books or between a movie and a book we all have read. All of these sitations leads to family discussions that everyone can participate in because we have shared knowledge!
Time to Share Family Values
Besides helping our children learn comprehension and language skills, reading aloud to our children can help us develop important values in our children. Many books contain themes such as honesty, responsibility, kindness, cooperation, courage, perseverance, and more! Many of these themes align with values we want our children to develop.
Stories and their characters give our families a great way to discuss examples of these values. Scenarios occur that show us what happens when people practice these values and when they don’t. We can see the consequence of their decisions without actually experiencing any adverse consequences ourselves. We can foster discussion around these values when we’re reading. And, we also have that shared knowledge to pull from when encountering situations in real life where we would like our children to show good character.
If you already do read alouds in your family, did you realize all of the benefit your family was reaping from them? Or if read alouds are not a regular part of your routine, I hope a few of the above reasons have inspired you to start them in your homeschoo!