A question I receive often from readers when they see our yearly book list is, “How do you get your children interested in sitting and listening to read-alouds?”
Since my husband and I are such fans of reading, one thing we’ve hoped since our children have been born is that we’d raise children who loves reading, too. With this in mind, here are some things we’ve done:
Start With Picture Books
Don’t jump straight into chapter books. That’s akin to asking your six-year-old to skip elementary math and leap right into algebra.
You have to slowly work up to chapter books. Start with picture books — reading just a little more each day to help your children’s attention span to grow over time.
Gradually Introduce Chapter Books
After you’re reading your children a steady diet of picture books, gradually introduce some short chapter books. Look for chapter books that have pictures at least every few pages and that have chapters no longer than a few pages. (The Little House chapter books and The Courage of Sarah Noble are two short chapter books I read with Silas this year.)
As your children become more engaged, increase your reading time and up the reading level of books. Eventually, you’ll probably find that you children want you to read for longer than you have time to do so!
Become Best Friends With the Library
I’m a champion of local libraries as they can provide a steady stream of great book options — all for free! For book ideas, I consult book lists from our My Father’s World curriculum, as well as from places like Honey for a Child’s Heart, Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Read For the Heart, and Educating the Whole-Hearted Child.
What I love about the library is that I can check out literally dozens of books each week and then go through them to decide which ones will be best to read. If I bring some books home that don’t end up being a good fit, I can easily return them — without any guilt because they were free!
Help your children learn to love the library, too, by regularly bringing them with you to the library and helping them find good books to check out.
Enthusiasm is contagious. If you’re excited about a book, your children usually will pick up on your excitement and join in.
When we’re getting ready to start a new read-aloud, I usually preface it by telling my children why I’m looking forward to reading it, giving them a little teaser as to what it’s about (this is often just reading the back of the book — which usually has some good teaser material on it), and why I think they’ll enjoy hearing me read it. After my little pep talk about the book, my kids are usually begging me to hurry up and start the book already. 🙂
Choose Books That Will Interest Your Child
Do you like to read books that are boring and on topics that don’t interest you? I’m guessing you don’t! So why would you expect your children to get excited about listening to books on topics that aren’t their cup of tea?
I love to choose books for my children that I think they will really love. For instance, my children are really into books that involve mystery and adventure. So books like Snow Treasure, Spiderweb for Two, and Mrs. Frisby & The Rats of Nimh are ones they have lapped up.
Some of our other favorites have been The Little House books, All-of-a-Kind Family, The Cricket in Times Square, James and the Giant Peach, A Bear Called Paddington, Wonder, The Golden Goblet, Johnny Tremain, and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.
It is so fun to read together when you’re all engaged and completely interested in the topic and storyline. Plus, there’s nothing better than getting to the end of a chapter and having everyone begging, “Please, please, just one more chapter!”
Make Reading Time Fun
Want to make reading time even more fun? Get a little creative in what it looks like every day.
Maybe some days you read outside on a blanket spread out over the grass. Or, you all head out to the sandbox and you read while your children play in the sand.
How about making some hot cocoa and snuggling under a blanket? For a really special memory, set up your tent in the backyard (or create one in your basement with blankets!) and huddle in together and read with a flashlight.
Don’t Expect Your Children to Sit Perfectly Still
Speaking of making reading time fun, one of the biggest things we’ve done is to not expect our children to sit still and just listen. Here’s what I wrote in my post last year with tips on reading aloud to your children:
While I know some people expect that read-aloud time means everyone sits with their hands in their lap while mom reads, that’s not at all what happens at our house. In fact, I’ve found that often my children listen better when their hands are busy.
So I encourage my children to play with Legos, or draw, or color, or do some other quiet activity while I’m reading. They seem to enjoy it a lot more — and the time flies!
We also often read as part of our meal times. It’s a great way to get in a few pages or a few chapters — while your children’s hands and mouths are busy eating!
Engage Your Children
When you’re reading, stop and ask questions along the way. “Why do you think they did that?” “Was that a good response or a poor response?” “What would you do if you were in that situation?”
Get your children’s minds turning and their creativity flowing. Some of our best discussions have come as a result of a book we’re reading.
Also, take time to answer their questions. It can get tiring to continually be answering question after question. But if you’re willing to take the time to listen and really respond to what your child is asking, they’ll not only learn a lot, but you’ll probably be blessed by some of the conversations this leads to.
As you’re reading, stop and locate where a country, state, and/or city is that the book mentions. My children have learned so much geography just from this simple activity.
If you encounter words that they are unfamiliar with, I love what my friend Sally Clarkson told me that she would do with her children. She said she’d stop, explain what the word meant, and then have each of her children use that word in a sentence. Talk about a great hands-on way to increase your vocabulary!
Don’t Be Afraid to Stop a Book If It’s Not Working
I wanted to end with this encouragement: if a book just isn’t working, don’t feel like you have to keep slogging through it. There are plenty of excellent books out there that there’s no need to waste time on books you just aren’t enjoying at all.
Give yourself grace, chuck your guilt, and move on to a better book!
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What are your best tips and suggestions for enjoying read-alouds? What are your family’s favorite read-alouds? I’d love to hear!
Related: Five Ways to Get Books for Free; 7 Ways to Find More Time to Read; 37 Books I Plan to Read to My Kids in 2013; and How to Get Started Reading Aloud.
We have loved all the selections from Sonlight – and our library has been more than willing to order the ones that they did not already have!
Merry Jo says
One thing we’ve started this year is that before I start reading the book to the kids, I copy all of the pictures in the book (enlarge them to fit a page). Then I number the pages and put them into a 3-prong folder (their “storytime folder”). As I’m reading, they get to color pictures from the story ~ they love it! 🙂
Great tips! We do many of the same things here in our home. I started reading aloud to my kids at a very early age and they just don’t know any better :). our best time to get reading done is when we’re sitting at the table eating breakfast or lunch or snack. I perch myself on a stool while they eat and listen. We also love to bring books outside to the porch swing and snuggle in together. The boys draw with chalk or play with legos while I read and it’s amazing what they retain 🙂
What an absolutely wonderful post! I really like what you said about everything, but what stands out to me are the picture books (of course, see my blog for explanation, heehee!) and becoming friends with the library. We go to the library often, but even so I was stunned that shortly after my daughter learned to walk, she took a book off the library shelf and carried it to a librarian for check out!! True story. I remember though, that by starting with picture books when I was a kid, I was super-excited to move onto books without illustrations, and having my mother read aloud chapter books was a very soothing and comforting way to end the day. KUDOS to you!!!
This is a great post and brings back many wonderful memories. My parents read to us many picture books daily from babyhood (often the same favorites over and over), graduating to simple chapter books by the time we were four or five. My dad read through a series checked out from the local library by Theodore Burgess, about animals. There must have been 50 books or more in that series, and he read it through at least three times for different children. My brothers and I all learned to read early and well, and love it.
My husband and I followed that simple method with our own children as well, sans the Burgess books (not available to us). We gladly read several picture books at a sitting, several times a day. I discovered rather by accident, while in language school on the mission field, that keeping my hands occupied helps MY brain engage better. I began taking needlework to school to do while listening to the (otherwise boring) recorded lab repetitions – and voila, I could remember the correct responses so much better! So we applied that concept to reading as well. In fact, our reading aloud sessions became the most memorable beginning when our girls were around 8 to 10. As part of their homeschooling, we included some household chores every day (“home ec”). My husband was interested in reading some of the children’s chapter books we had collected, so he offered to read to us daily while we cleaned up the kitchen after lunch! As you may imagine, it made the chore so much more pleasant and enjoyable, and some of those classic favorites are still often referred to in family conversation. “Please, Daddy, just one more chapter!” We allowed the children to read the book again for themselves once the family was done, if they wanted to. And I admit to sneaking advance peeks sometimes when a book was just too exciting, but we couldn’t keep going that day.
We too would stop and discuss passages, word meanings, events, feelings evoked in the books we read. The girls learned to analyze, to use critical thinking and to discern. Sometimes I also incorporated dictation into our schoolwork, where I read a passage aloud slowly and the child/ren would copy it into their notebooks as best they could. This exercise improves handwriting, note-taking and spelling/grammar skills.
We rarely had to assign books to read, and when a book was assigned by a curriculum, the girls never balked, because they were such happy readers and so engaged by the things they read. Reading aloud to them, even up into their teen years, was a wonderful and effective exercise which we all enjoyed.
We read to our children when they were young. I wish I would have thought of your common sense suggestions then. Thank you for this posting. I plan to pass this wonderful article along.
Last year, while my son was in kindergarten, we started chapter books. While browsing at the bookstore my son found a book series call The Magic Treehouse. The first book was about dinosaurs so he was extremely interested, we read the book in just a few nights. For his kindergarten “graduation” present from his dad and I we bought him the first 28 books in the series (I found a really good deal on Amazon) and he loves them. His younger sister, who is 2, also loves to cuddle up with us during “storytime”. I have 3 children total with my oldest being 6, so I am sure I will get plenty of use out of them. Another thing I love about the series is there are non fiction companions call fact trackers to help them learn more about a time or place they are interested in. My son also loved Swiss Family Robinson, I found the book in the box full of books that my mom had kept for me from my childhood. The United Way in my county also sponsors the Dolly Parton Imagination Library which gives 1 book per month to a child from birth to age 5. This has started my children their own personal library, as the books come with a sticker with their name on them. For anyone who has not heard of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library I strongly recommend looking into it. It is a wonderful program and some of the books I have received have been favorites from the time they were received. I loved reading as a child and hope my children will as well.
When my sisters and I were little, my parents gave us the option of going to bed 15 minutes early, and reading for a half hour, or going to bed on time, and lights out. We always chose to go to bed early and read 15 minutes past bedtime. As a result, we all are book lovers. I started this with my kids, those that can’ t read , I read to. I will still use this idea for reading to my older ones. All of my older kids are book worms, and my little ones are happy to head up early if I will read to them. Even my 3 year old understands the thrill of staying up past bedtime to read!!
Perfect timing on this post! I was just thinking the other day that I needed to come up with a more advanced reading aloud plan for my 3 year old than the current board books he has. This is perfect advice. And that picture of your kids at the table is just absolutely precious. 🙂
Katie L says
Some of my favorite memories from childhood are of my mom reading to us. (I am blessed to have married a man with similar memories!)
Some of our/our kids’ favorites:
Chronicles of Narnia
The Westing Game
Audio books from a very young age!
I have one child that was not as interested in sitting while we read chapter books until I gave her a notebook and said she could draw a picture for each chapter that we read. At the end she had her own picture book that went along with the reader and she began falling in love with the stories.
I love this idea! Thanks for sharing!
I was reluctant to start reading to my kids because I felt I had missed that window of opportunity and they were too old now (they are 8,9 & 12). However, at Christmas this last year, I wanted to introduce them to a book I had loved having a teacher read to us when I was in school, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Much to my surprise, they all enjoyed having me read to them. So, I started looking for more opportunities and books. We do not have a book going all the time but we have enjoyed the ones we have done. The latest one I read to them was Edison’s Gold and they loved it.
We have also enjoyed the Nancy Drew audio books over the summer. Unfortunately, there are only 9 or 10 of the collection that are available in audio book. We truly enjoyed the first 5 because they have music to set the mood at certain points in the story and it reminds me of the old days when the family would gather around the radio for the evening programs. Anyway, my point is, don’t be worried that you’ve missed the boat and your kids are too old. Give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results 🙂
You are so right that kids are never too old. My mom read to me when I was really little, before kindergarten, but not frequently and I really loved that time. I would ask her from time to time if she would read to me but she thought I was too old. Take it from me, children are never too old to have parents read to them! It’s not about the book, sure it’s fun to hear great stories, it’s about the closeness and the stopping of all other activity to do something for the child.
Crystal, Can you repost the link for the books you read to your children in 2011? It doesn’t seem to be linked to your Pinterest page anymore. Thanks!
Unfortunately, I pulled that page on Pinterest, because Pinterest was giving me hiccups and I had to delete some boards. 🙁
Stephanie @ Mrs. Debtfighter says
AWESOME post!!! We are huge readers here too and I agree with everything you just said!!! Mine love checking out new books from the library as often as possible. You would think we were going to Chuck e Cheese if you saw how excited they get when I tell them we are going to the library! 🙂
I’m not any sort of teaching or child expert here, but from my own experience I’d say don’t immediately freak out if your child developes their reading more slowly than usual. When my first grade class started intensive reading instruction, I was behind most of my classmates for the first few months (still not sure what was going on, since I was eager to start reading on my own and by third grade I’d become a huge bookworm — still am). I’m so grateful that my parents let me have the time to improve on my own rather than jumping right to tutors and extra practice sessions and other things that would have made it seem like The Biggest Deal Ever and possibly turned it into a battle of wills. (They would of course have intervened somehow if I hadn’t improved on my own after a few months.)
You might like the other books about the Melendy children as well–Four Story Mistake, And Then There Were Five, and maybe a couple of others. I’ve read most of the ones you’ve listed and can’t wait to read them aloud when we get to that stage in life!
I just got those recently and my children are really excited about reading them soon!
Okay, I guess I’ll be the one who disagrees, somewhat.
You won’t find a bigger advocate than me for reading pictures books to your children. It is so important for many reasons, which I think everyone knows. Even after they can read themselves, it is still beneficial.
However, I’m not sold on frequently reading chapter books out loud – for all children. For a reluctant reader, I can see that it would be good. But otherwise, it is so painfully slow. It would have killed me as a kid if my parents had done that. It is so enjoyable to curl up with a book on my own, read at my pace, read as far as I want, and hear the voices the way I imagine them in my head.
I totally agree that picture books are great and encouraging your children to read on their own is also very important, too.
I was wondering: were you read to as a child? I have so many wonderful, wonderful memories of my mom reading to us growing up. That’s one reason I love reading to my children — because I hope it gives them the same memories, too. Plus, it is so much fun to enjoy a book together as a family! 🙂
Yes – but just picture books. My mother frequently took us to the library – reading was big deal in our home. She or my father read to us during the day some, but mainly at bedtime. She read while breastfeeding also. I was the oldest of ten kids, so she was always reading to little ones my entire growing up years. It was informal, open-invitation kind of thing. So us older kids could join in or not as we chose. However, we all did have to be there for family scripture reading, regardless of age.
So, the good memory thing for me is my mother sitting on the sofa with kids surrounding her reading picture books – elbowing for a good viewing position! And that’s what I do with my own. As far as chapter books go, it’s really my antsy impatient personality! I just can’t take the slow pace – I can read so much faster on my own. For the same reason I am not a fan of audio books. I will listen to them on a car trip when I have no choice, but that’s it.
She did choose chapter books for us from the library, and would talk about it with us after we read them. I will have to ask her why she did not read chapter books out loud – if she didn’t like to, or more likely, due to lack of time.
Anyway, I’m not saying that reading chapter books out loud is bad at all. I just wanted to point out that some kids may not do as well with it.
Lea Stormhammer says
I would also add to start reading one chapter at a time. If the children want more, than read another, but that way if they get antsy you can stop. 🙂
We do read-alouds in the evening as part of a wind-down before bed and then occasionally at other times of the day as we feel like it. LOVE IT!
Great tips Crystal!
Reading to your kids is so important.
I just finished an excellent book by Amanda Ripley called The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. Ripley examines why students from countries like Finland and Korea score so much higher than American kids on the PISA test (an international assessment test taken by 15-year-olds).
One interesting finding from the PISA test is that worldwide, kids whose parents read to them daily or almost daily when they were young performed much better in reading by the age of fifteen.
Jamie Rohrbaugh says
I still get Snow Treasure out and read it. To myself. 🙂 It’s awesome! As well as Swiss Family Robinson… and Miss Twiggley’s Tree is one of my most cherished posessions… and… (ok, I’ll stop lest I embarrass myself). 🙂
christine lee says
In our family we also listen to a lot of audio books. In the car, at bath time, etc…
I have 5 year old twins who LOVE audio books. I have a hard time finding a good selection of them. Any thoughts/suggestions? I’d love some ideas!!
Lea Stormhammer says
We love to listen to Audio Books while we travel in the car – between my husband being in seminary and traveling all over to preach, and visiting family we have spent a LOT of time in the car the last couple of years!
Some Audio books we’ve liked the most:
The A-Z Mysteries by Ron Roy (clean, funny and great discussion!)
The Calendar Mysteries by Ron Roy (clean, funny, and the younger siblings of the A-Z crew)
The Candy Makers by Wendy Mass (more sophisticated, a great discussion started about cooperation and competition – longer with 4 sections, one from each child’s point of view)
The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
We have 8-year-old boy-girl twins and we started with these when they were 5. We started by just looking through what the library had and deciding from there. Anything we hadn’t read, we checked out and read before playing the audio version.
These were our personal favorites but there are tons more out there!
Hope that’s helpful and good luck hunting for new audio books!
Great post! I love to read also. I always read to my daughter at bedtime when she was little. When she was a baby – she had a lot of hardcover picture books to “read” and as she got older, I would buy books from the library bookstore and thrift stores. Now she is 14 and loves to read ! Her wish lists consist mainly of books! One thing that helped me – was the library programs I would take her to, whenever I could.
jen keith says
great job crystal!!
Great tips, Crystal. We just started The Mouse and the Motorcycle today. I struggle with letting my kids play with other things while I read because pretty soon I am having to talk louder and LOUDER over the motorcycle vrooms and Lego crashings from my boys while my daughter keeps singing lullabies to her baby dolls. haha.
Anyway, I need to get back to reading during meals – shoveling food in their mouths seems to keep them quiet as well as engaged!
Kelly, when my daughter was in first grade, her teacher would read aloud in class and allow the kids to draw or color if they wanted to. I’m one who has a very hard time doing two things at once — if I was coloring I wouldn’t be listening — so at first I was skeptical of this. But I’ve since become convinced that for many kids it’s a good way for them to keep quiet and not fidget too much. Maybe allow coloring, or a simple quiet craft, and not so much free play? Just a thought.
Our all time favorite books were the Ralph Moody books. Our children would beg for another chapter. Our baby is 22 so it has been a long time since I read aloud. I wish I had kept a list of all the great books we read. I would sometimes read until I had no voice left and they were asking for more. Great memories are made this way!
Dana O. says
Our family loves read alouds even though the children are now 14 & 10. Audio books have been a great addition at family meal times. When the kids brush their teeth and wash their faces at night, I read a chapter or part of a chapter. They brush their teeth longer and we enjoy some extra book time!.
Melanie @ carmelmoments.com says
What great ideas Crystal. I’m so blessed that all three of my kids love to read/be read to. But I think it helps that I limit their ‘screen’ time.
The picture of the kiddos at the table is priceless. 🙂
Tara G. says
We use a lot from the Sonlight curriculum and love the book selections!
It’s funny. I know so many people who have their kids do something else – eat, color, play – while their mom reads. I can’t read during meals . . . I have a child who won’t eat while a story is being read. It’s a good problem really, but does narrow down when I can do -read-alouds. Still trying to figure out the best time (other than bedtime). My kids love to read (at least the oldest two), and the library is an excellent place for non-fiction, informational, but fun books for kids. The “You wouldn’t want to be. . .” history series comes to mind, as well as endless books about animals, the english series about parts of speech (One is called “Dearly, Dearly, Insincerely”, and other great non-fiction reading that my kids eat up. In our library, you have to wander the non-fiction stacks because the children’s books are in and among the adult books, but my kids are getting good at picking out things at their reading level.
My 5 year old and 8 yr old love to hear the Magic Treehouse series on audio when we are in the car!
Jo Lynn says
Your posts always seem to come at the perfect timing. I just wrote in my customized planner (that I love and recently purchased after you did a reader question about planners) daily reading in my sons section of the planner. Ive been reading to him off and on but its been more on a whim then a daily activity. I’m definitely going to implement these tips, I LOVE reading and I want him to also. I have been guilty of jumping right into chapter books with him and he’s definitely more into picture books. I’m looking forward to starting slowly and going from there with him and making it a regular part of our day.
Also I recently (it came this weekend) purchased the 3-5 year old curriculm from my Fathers World. I love it! I had purchased a different homeschool curriculm for preschoolers but it turned out it was mostly crafts and didn’t work for us. My Fathers World though is perfect. I really like the guided activities on the cards to use with the toys. My son is delayed in fine and gross motor skills as well as speech however between the cards, his speech app on his ipad, and me doing some hand over hand we’re getting some good learning in. Thank you so much for mentioning the curriculm on here, I’m so glad we invested in it.
Great tips here, Crystal! My 3 year old loves when I read to her, and that makes me happy because Mommy is a total bookworm 🙂