I also found that when the children were little, several short reading times together throughout the day worked much better than one long one. I wanted kids to love reading, not feel forced into it, but I also knew I had to consistently build into them in this area. All of my children, especially the boys, were active and on occasion resistant to the family reading time. Strive for the balance between asking more than is wise from your children and going to the other extreme of letting them dictate whether or not you have reading time together. There are time to let them squirm and times to coax them to sit on your lap and listen. You will know this balance better than anyone else.

As the children got older, the books progressed from picture books to chapter books. I discovered they would listen longer if I allowed them to draw or build with blocks while I read. By this time we also had younger children who couldn't be still while I read to the big kids, but that didn't change the need for the older children to hear more difficult books. Many reading times have been shared with toddlers playing with matchbox cars and older siblings building with Lincoln Logs. As all four children grew older, I'd often assign each child a drawing lesson from Hablitzel and Stitzer's Draw Write Now books and they'd work on pictures while I read to them. I've read at the kitchen table while the kids peeled potatoes for dinner or apples for pie. I've read at the park, in the living room, and sitting in our neighbor's yard while the kids licked popsicles.

Sally Clarkson of Whole Heart Ministries (www.wholeheart.org) says she often lit the fireplace and served her children hot chocolate, or popped a huge bowl of popcorn to entice them into listening to her read. Sally says that as long as her children could narrate back to her what the story was about, she allowed them to do quiet activity while she read.

When I read, I have just one rule. You can't do anything that will distract the reader or those listening. That means no talking. No picking at your brother. (I've also had to limit car noises). Moms can discover what their own limitations are. For example, even as a teen my oldest son would shoot mini hockey pucks or bounce on a mini-tramp if I allowed it during reading time. He actually learns best when moving, but most of the time I just can't handle that much activity when I read aloud. Sure, he could narrate back to me while bouncing up and down, but I'm unhappy and his siblings are distracted, therefore I limit it.

When you choose selections for read-a-loud time, think carefully about your choice. It's good to choose books in which the vocabulary is slightly above your child's, but I also recommend variety. If you've finished a long, more difficult read-aloud, you might want to read an easier selection the next time. While I am careful to choose stories that promote the things I'm passionate about, like justice, compassion, courage, and integrity, I also believe there is great value to reading something for the sheer pleasure of laughing together at a funny story or getting lost in a wonderfully created imaginary world. Read books you love and the family read-a-loud will be more successful.

Research also indicates that a mother or father's voice reading to the child builds better learning for the child than listening to pre-recorded books. Some experts even suggest recording stories yourself so that your child can listen to books read by you even when you aren't available, like when you're driving the car or gone for the afternoon. While I do believe this is ideal, I also believe we should be careful not to become to legalistic about this. If you are reading consistently to your child throughout his lifetime, there is still much value in getting books on tape or CD at the library. As busy moms, we need to use the resources available to us without guilt! We don't have to do it all ourselves. This year has been particularly taxing for me. In this busy season, I am blessed by books on CD. Right now, instead of reading a great piece of literature to my children, we're listening to it read by a professional reader on CD. And guess what? While we listen I do those things that pile up and drive me crazy, like fold laundry, sew Cub Scout patches on uniforms, or mend someone's favorite shirt. When we're done with this book, I'll put away my needle and read to them myself again, but this break is a gift! As my children grow older and more involved outside activities, I have to work harder to schedule our read-a-louds, but it's worth it.

I encourage you to do what it takes to make the family read-a-loud a part of your homeschool. Fight through the issues that attempt to derail your efforts. Then enjoy the rewards of experiencing literature together while helping your child develop a better vocabulary, a deeper ability to think through big concepts, and a lifetime love of reading.


A home schooling mother of four, Paula Moldenhauer is passionate about God's grace and intimacy with Jesus. Her website offers home schooling hints, book reviews, and a free weekly devotional, Soul Scents. Subscribe to Soul Scents at www.soulscents.us. You can contact Paula at Paula@soulscents