1. Start Small, but Read Often!
Establishing a routine is key to read aloud success with little ones. If your kids are young, or haven’t had much read-aloud experience, keep it short. Ten to fifteen minutes is a great place to start. Set apart a consistent time in your day that is just for reading aloud. Snuggling up with a book before bed often works well (what child doesn’t want to delay bedtime?). During lunch or snack can also be a great opportunity to read together. Try to pick one time of day and stick with it until your kids come to expect it.
2. Pick a Quality Read-aloud
Some books make for a better read-aloud experience than others. Avoid books that have complicated dialects or lots of difficult-to-follow dialogue. Look for beautiful writing, interesting characters and engaging illustrations. Don’t shy away from picture books; they’re not just for the preschool set. A good picture book will captivate at any age. If you’d like help coming up with ideas, Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt and The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie are full of wonderful recommendations for every age group.
3. Follow Your Child’s Lead
Picking books that align with your child’s interests is a great way to ensure a successful read aloud. Is your child obsessed with dinosaurs, princesses or monster trucks? Look for books on these topics, and share them with enthusiasm. You’re sure to see your child’s desire to be read to grow. By meeting them where they’re at, you can draw them into a beautiful relationship with reading and give them a lifelong passion for the written word.
4. Keep Little Hands Occupied
A baby, toddler or even a fidgety older child can sabotage the most carefully planned read-aloud time. Giving them something to stay busy with makes for calmer read-aloud times and may even enhance comprehension and retention of the books you read. For babies a snack in the high chair is often the best way to get a few uninterrupted minutes of reading in. Toddlers can be corralled with coloring books, lacing cards, paint-with-water books, or a small shoe box of special toys that only come out during read-aloud time. Older kids, fidgety or not, may enjoy your reading sessions more if you allow them to play with Legos, draw, paint or model with clay as you read. And everyone benefits from a special snack or drink during reading time!
5. Ditch A Book That Isn’t Working
Give a longer book 3 chapters, and if it hasn’t hooked you and your audience, lay it aside. Sometimes all you need to do is wait a year or two, and reintroduce the book when your children have matured a little. Other times you may just have to let it go. There are so many wonderful books out there, you could never get through them all. There’s no point in grinding away at a book that no one is enjoying.
6. Don’t Turn Every Book into a Reading Comprehension Quiz
It’s important to have some books that you read just for the sheer delight of it. Helping our kids fall in love with reading is arguably one of the most important things we can do as a homeschool parent, certainly just as important as honing their literary skills or prepping them for a standardized test, if not more so. If you want to invite discussion, use open-ended questions like “What surprised you most about this story?” or “Who did this character remind you of?” Don’t judge or evaluate the answers you receive, and whatever you do, don’t try to improve upon a less-than-enthusiastic response by probing or chiding. Try to foster an atmosphere of curiosity and enjoyment around your read aloud times.
7. Keep Your Expectations Realistic
As homeschool parents we all have a picture in mind of how we’d like our read-aloud times to go. Children seated calmly on the rug, smiling angelically at us with undivided attention as we progress uninterrupted through page after page of Dickens or Shakespeare. The reality is often far from our ideal. That doesn’t mean our read aloud times have no value.
Even if it seems like no one is paying attention, attitudes are sour, or you’re interrupted for the umpteenth time by the phone ringing, the delivery man at the door, or the need to search for the missing black crayon to appease your howling toddler, try not to be discouraged. You’ll be surprised at how much their little minds are internalizing even when they don’t appear to be listening. Small bits of read aloud time over the long haul have a lasting impact.