A whine started with one boy and echoed through my classroom. "Do we have to read?"

Mouth agape, I stared at my students. Where did that attitude come from?

Just a few years before, the scene was totally different. Not only did my students listen eagerly when it was time for me to read aloud, but they often begged me not to stop! There were never groans when I began reading, only groans when I'd leave them hanging at the end of a good chapter.

The children I'm talking about are not found in a public school. They attend a class I've taught for a homeschool coop for the last eight years. Somewhere down the line, listening to a good book changed from a desired activity to a rejected one. What happened over the years to give such stark contrast between the class of 1998 to the classes of 2007?

Much is the same. Both classes were comprise of primarily homeschooled boys between the ages of 7 and 12 and had approximately 25 students. The books were very similar--in fact, if my memory serves me, they were by the same author! And I still do all the great voices when I read. So why are things so different than when I first started years ago? Why do I see a measurable decline in the attention span of my students and in their love of story?

I first began pondering this question at a homeschool conference, which focused on the importance of reading and the concern about the decline of the reading of literature in the US. Then, just this week I read a magazine talking about similar issues. Both sources referenced the same study, "Reading at Risk."

 Released in 2004 by the National Endowment for the Arts, "Reading at Risk," studied the literary practices of adults in American and reported drops in literary reading among all ages groups, with the steepest rate of decline (28%) occurring in the youngest age groups. It further stated that the overall rate of decline accelerated from 5 to 14 percent since 1992.

Could I be seeing the results of literary decline in my own homeschool community? I'd thought homeschoolers were exempt from the concern of a drop in reading literacy.

Now I'm not so sure. My students today seem less accustomed to listening to a book. They fidget more. Fewer students are eager to answer my questions when we discuss the story. If I say, "Who can tell me what happened in the story when we read last time?" I'll only have a couple of students who've retained the storyline and are eager to share. I used to have several. I'm willing to admit that every class has a different personality and it could simply be a result of different leadership, but I think the issue is important enough that we must ask the question: have homeschoolers, too, began to lose focus on literature?

It is possible we are experiencing new trends in homeschooling that may relate to this issue. For example, in the early days of homeschooling, very little curriculum was available to homeschoolers. Resilient homeschool moms, God bless them, trekked to the library and built their own curriculum around great literature. Today, not only do homeschoolers have access to just about every curriculum a private Christian school can purchase, there has also been a plethora of curriculum designed specifically for homeschoolers. I'm grateful I have so many options and buy my curriculum alongside the best of homeschool moms. But I'm wondering if with the ease of acquiring curriculum we have forgotten the foundation of reading together. It can be easy to send the kids to their workbooks instead of taking time together with a good book.

Recently, a young mom asked me about the family read-a-loud. Though an avid reader herself, no one read to her as a child and it was a foreign concept to her. When she first heard the idea and tried it at home, she wasn't met with success. The kids fidgeted and grumbled. Instead of the happy environment she imagined, anarchy ruled!
Perhaps you've had a similar experience and wonder if reading aloud is worth the effort. I'd like to share why I believe a family read aloud time is important and how to help children adjust to and enjoy this precious time.