When I think of pleasant, lyrical words that somehow perfectly describe my thoughts, my mind leaps to the beautiful words of a well-know character in a story, dear Anne of Green Gables. She has a way of cultivating beauty wherever she wanders. Anne can look at a serene sunset, describing its beauty and be reminded of the goodness in this world. She wanders under wavering willow trees and hears the sweet whispers of the wind.
Hearing beautifully written stories, shapes the imaginations of our children, which is truly a gift to them— a gift to be able to see the mystery and magic of our world now, and a preparation for what is to come.
So, what is a ‘great’ read-aloud? How do I know if a beautiful story like Anne of Green Gables should be read independently or as a read-aloud? One possible indicator is when your child says, “Mom, will you please keep reading….just one more page? Please!!” You know you’ve likely found a great read-a-loud when your your kids are asking for more. There are numerous books out there that have a captivating story and are also wonderfully written.
Whether you have already created a culture of reading in your home or if you’re just starting now, there is hope. I had my first child twelve years ago and I had no idea at that point in time how to choose great books to read to her. One day, in a Borders bookstore, standing before the shelves of children’s books and feeling more than a little overwhelmed, I shyly gathered courage to ask a nearby mom. “ Umm…do you have any recommendations for what to read to a toddler?” She kindly responded with, “Two words….Charlotte Mason. Check her out.”
I discovered Charlotte Mason was a British educator living and teaching in the 1800’s. She recommends the reading of what she calls, ‘living books’. Living books are typically written by one person who writes in a narrative or conversational style who has immersed herself in a topic. I liked the sound of reading a ‘living book’ to my child— much better than a dead one, I suppose! Mason discouraged reading ‘twaddle,’ a word she termed as dumbed down literature with the absence of meaning. In our home, we aim to spread before our kids a broad feast of books to read and for us to read to them. And once in awhile, we all read a few purely for fun!
If you’re wondering what criteria to think through in selecting a read-aloud for your children, here are a few thoughts:
include an intriguing and well-written narrative with complex characters who come alive;
stimulate the imaginations, minds, and hearts of both children and adults;
are often timeless classics, fairy tales, or chapter books;
include characters worth emulating or ones that lead a child to explore the tensions and complexities lying in the human heart.
Children are often able to listen to a book being read that is two to three levels higher than his individual reading level. We just finished reading Mr. Poppers Penguins to our four year old and six year old. This absurd tale is full of humor and you might find yourself laughing out loud along with your kids.
The goal in selecting stories for a great read-aloud isn’t finding one with the most well-behaved characters. The Bible certainly isn’t even an example of this! Rather, the goal is to find stories that help us wrestle with themes of good vs. evil, whether it be in an external battle and an internal challenge a character is facing.
“Having found the book which has a message for us, let us not be guilty of the folly of saying we have read it. We might as well say we have breakfasted, as if breakfasting on one day should last us for every day! The book that helps us deserves many readings, for assimilation comes by slow degrees.” ― Charlotte M. Mason, Ourselves
If reading aloud is a new practice in your home or if you’re trying to get back into the habit…start small. Try one thing on this list:
Spend 10 minutes a day reading aloud to your child. This small amount will actually total 30 hours of reading a year.
Set an alarm on your phone to read aloud to your kids.
Play audio books. Our local public library system has an abundance of books on CD or playaways. Try out a free subscription to audible.com, or check out LibriBox– a free public domain books in an audio format written before 1923. Audio books or playaways are perfect when you’re tired, or when you’re in the car, even if you’re just driving the kids around town for their activities.
Older kids can read to younger kids.
Replace wasted minutes in the day with intentional reading time. A 10-minute Facebook scroll time in the car may be a window of time you can read to your child.
Let us know if you tried a new habit from this list or have one to share. We'd love for you to leave a comment!