When I first began homeschooling, I fell in love with the idea of a book based education. I daydreamed about reading aloud beautiful literature to my serene children as they snuggled close to me on the couch, their little eyes focused on me with rapt attention as I read. But the reality was something quite different.
I had always read to my children at bedtime, but it wasn’t until I began homeschooling in earnest that I added in a daytime story session. At that time, my oldest was 4 and I had one year old twins. That quiet snuggling time only happened if I planned our reading sessions around their naps. Otherwise it was chaos.
Things plugged along pretty smoothly, and I got through a hefty stack of books with my daughter. I was patting myself on the back when suddenly, the twins gave up their afternoon nap. I suddenly had no quiet moment in my day where I could continue our peaceful reading time. I would attempt to include them, but they were physically incapable of sitting still for longer than 10 seconds and they were SO LOUD. We went from reading a chapter book every other week to one each month, if we were lucky. I felt defeated by these little balls of energy. I began to question if it was worth the trouble to even try reading aloud.
That was when I had my epiphany. As I contemplated the future of our little homeschool, I realized that if my end goal was to have well read children who loved the written word and who loved to learn, then I had to find a way to prioritize reading aloud. It was literally the most important thing I could do for them.
Reading aloud has numerous benefits, but for me, the biggest was giving my children a love of reading. I wanted them to appreciate books, to see them as the ultimate form of entertainment as well as a place to seek knowledge. Reading is powerful, and I wanted to give them that power. But in those early days, it was hard. How do I read aloud when they won’t sit still? When they interrupt every other sentence to ask a question? When the constant barrage of questions doesn’t even have anything to do with what we’re reading? When they argue for 30 minutes over which spot on the couch is “their spot?” How was I supposed to create this environment where we could read great books and discuss them, and most importantly THINK about all of those beautiful ideas when it felt like I was sitting in the middle of a three-ring circus?
First — I needed to realize that at that point in time, we weren’t going to be reading in solid hour long chunks. I set aside different times throughout the day that would be devoted to reading. I discovered that while they were sitting at the table eating, I could read for 15 minutes without anyone running around the room or arguing over where to sit. So I read poetry over breakfast and a chapter from our read aloud at lunch. I would let them run around outside for an hour and tire them out, and then we’d snuggle on the couch with a stack of picture books. On rainy days when everyone is a bit wired, I’d give them paper and crayons and let them draw while I read. Or I’d make hot chocolate and cinnamon toast and we’d have a story time tea party.
Second, and I think this is nearly as important as reading aloud, I needed them to see me reading for pleasure as well as for educational purposes. Mothering is all about imitation, and I wanted them to imitate my love of reading. If they see that I’m always on the computer checking Facebook or grabbing my phone to “just check in for a minute” all day long, they’ll learn to value time wasted on the internet. But if they see me spending my free moments reading a book, researching for our spring garden, or studying a topic that interests me, they’ll learn that reading is a pastime worth pursuing. It’s music to my ears when my children come to me with a question and then ask if we can go to the library to find a book about it. Or when my daughter comes running down the stairs clutching a book to her chest and telling me, “you HAVE to read this book, Mama!” That’s when I know that I’m on the right path.
Difficulties come up along the way, but if you keep your focus on the end goal and simplify your day when necessary, the important things can and will get done. School really can consist of reading beautiful books and talking about the big ideas contained within. It really is enough. Literature can be the focus of your studies. You may never achieve that daydream with the billowing white curtains and the calm, serene children silently sitting while you read for hours, but you will give them the most important gift — the gift of literature, a thirst for knowledge, and most importantly, the love of learning.
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 18 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.