We don’t read out loud anymore. That statement was proudly delivered by another mom, whose kids had reached the milestone of being able to read books by themselves.
I don’t minimize the importance of that milestone, and the joy that comes from curling up on your own with a good book. But I do lament the idea that the ability to read independently means reading aloud comes to an end.
My kids still at home are 18 and 16, and we still read together. It used to be books like Little House on the Prarie, the Harry Potter series, and Finn Family Moomintroll. These days, it’s The Count of Monte Cristo, Anna Karenina, and Mansfield Park. They find it as enjoyable as ever.
Reading aloud is not something I do only with my kids. My husband and I like it, too. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy duddy, I admit the following: I knit, he reads out loud. Recently, we’ve finished Jude the Obscure, The Great Gatsby, Steppenwolf, Wise Blood, and Kindred, and are part way through The Goldfinch.
Reading aloud is a great social activity, too. Every other week, we get together with other families for what we call Read & Feed. People take turns reading chapters, then we potluck, then we read again. We’ve been doing this for years. When the kids were little, we loved books like The Prince of the Pond and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. As they got older, we tackled Jane Eyre, The Portrait of a Lady, and Dracula. The books are fabulous, and so is the feasting and the company.
As a homeschooling parent, you can choose to continue reading to your kids (don’t forget to invite them to read out loud, too). You can also host social evenings that involve reading aloud. If you’re not up for a novel, poetry is great, and reading a play aloud is loads of fun.
You can also start a book group with other homeschooling kids. If you do, remember to stay open-minded about what it means to pay attention. When my adult son was eleven, I hosted a group in my house. I read The Neverending Story aloud to about half a dozen boys. I vividly recall one of them acting out each scene as it was read. At first, my own preconceptions about how one is supposed to behave while listening caused me a bit of worry. But I decided to go with the flow, and realized that this kid’s natural response was to be physical about what he was hearing. By doing so, he was processing the text more deeply. It wasn’t a bit disruptive, perhaps because his behavior was coming from a place of connection with the book, and I think all the kids knew that. They were just as wrapped up in the story, and appreciated their friend’s interpretation of it.
As far as the benefits of reading aloud, I can only theorize that a focus on listening to literature had something to do with my son’s ability to nail, in less than 24 hours, reams of lines for a play in which he had the lead role. I can only guess that a lifetime of attentive listening makes reciting their favorite poems from memory, and learning speeches from Shakespeare plays, a snap for my daughters. I also wholeheartedly agree with those who think literature and stories are some of the best tools for learning about anything. But I can only say one thing with absolute certainty: reading great books aloud is totally fun. What more of a reason do you need?