“Mom, read us the book about the ducks, the ones that cross the road!”
The librarian date-stamped the book and reminded us of the two week due date. Mom placed Make Way for Ducklings (Viking Kestrel, 1941), a classic read by Caldecott author, Robert Mc Closkey, into our tote bag. When we arrived home, I pulled the book from the bag and begged my mom to read to me. She did. In fact, we read the book over and over for a full week.
Years later when I enrolled in my first college level children’s literature course, my mom bought me my own hard cover copy—a memento of our reading times together. Now I read that copy to my children. Reading, nurtured by mom, even when I struggled with phonetics and comprehension, remains a treasured part of my life. Books can have the same impact in your home.
My favorite part of our homeschooling days is the time we gather in the living room to read aloud. Sometimes I read classic picture books my parents read to me. Sometimes I read living books, books with plots and characters who invite us into their lives. We travel through historical eras together, bumping along on a carriage or awed by a new invention. Books escort us to places we would not otherwise experience. We learn together.
Sitting close to my children, at least those old enough to sit still for a period of time, I read aloud. The littlest children build with blocks or play with play dough nearby. We listen, then pause. Conversation builds as we talk about choices characters make and relate events of the plot to our own life choices. Character’s choices speak to our hearts and we grow close to one another, building a lasting correlation between relationships and reading.
Library day has been a favorite for our family for over twenty years. The more often we go—weekly when we can—the more we read.
As children develop interests, I show them how to search the electronic catalog and then locate books on the shelves. We discuss our family’s standards of appropriate and inappropriate content, using Philippians 4:8 as a guide.
Equipping my children with library etiquette and skills helps them feel confident and responsible as they choose books of interest, giving them a boost toward becoming life long, self motivated learners.
A tornado swept through our toddler book area. Not a literal tornado, a two-year-old “reader”. Cherrios remnants blanketed the carpet and The Cheerios Play Book by Lee Wade (Little Simon, 1998) lay open, proof the littlest learner had recently vacated. I love our toddler book nook, a basket full of colorful, inviting large font board books. It is a place where our youngest learners can relax, open a book, and imitate the reading behaviors of older siblings.
“She sells seashells by the seashore,” chanted a preschooler caught in the sweet sounds of alliteration, unaware a literary device had been tucked away in her mind, setting a language template for future writing. Nurturing a reader involves capturing the desire for literary eloquence, the powerful potential of the spoken and written word.
Children blessed with someone who reads aloud to them can improve phonemic awareness, increase listening and comprehension capacity, build vocabulary, and ultimately create a model for future writing. Unknown words heard in context and defined in family discussion afford a child a model for use in his own vocabulary. The same is true of sentence structure, literary techniques, and grammar mechanics. Heard and studied in the context of character development and an unfolding plot, meaning is remembered. It is through reading aloud, as well as reading independently, that children become more likely to be successful, motivated, life long readers.
“Mom, where are the rocket books?” Children have unique interests. Observing interests and listening to ideas allows me to foster what matters most to each of my children. I might walk one child to the nonfiction aisles, pointing out the shelves on which he can find marine science books. Preschoolers follow me to the counting books where we can thumb through books together. My middle school daughter with an interest in pencil drawings might need assistance finding appropriate instructional material she can use for independent study. Books allow children, at any age, to bolster personal and intellectual strengths.
Our house flooded in 2001, forcing us to relocate to a hotel for fourteen days. We had to leave many of our school materials behind in the garage. To compensate, we spent hours at the library. It was during this transition period we discovered books from every content area, books that would not have caught our attention.
For math, we borrowed One, Two, Skip A Few!: First Number Rhymes by Roberta Arenson (Turtleback, 2000) and Animals on Board by Stuart Murphy (HarperCollins, 1998). My older children found Twizzlers Percentages Book by Jerry Pallotta (Cartwheel, 2001).
We checked out books, fiction and nonfiction, and retreated to the hotel or nearby park, returning the next day to borrow more literary treasures. By the end of our hotel stay we had not only read through a mountain of books, but also sparked interests in areas we could never have discovered through our traditional curriculum. Our flood experience allowed our family—especially mom—to realize we could learn anything we desired, through reading books from the library.
An heirloom end table graces the side of our family room couch. Atop rests an assortment of Bibles, all reading levels, some illustrated, some large print, positioned to invite any age individual to sit and stay awhile. The collection—a favorite of our family—has grown as family members have aged and matured. It is a place where anyone can rest and read. Preschoolers through grandpas have enjoyed the timeless, foundational stories of our faith. They are the books by which all other literary content is measured.
Reading aloud impacts lives. It is worth the purposeful prioritizing of time needed to set a family precedence. Growing a reader takes time, time to research potential reads, time to visit the library to borrow books, time to sit with littles practicing oral reading, time for independent readers to curl up and read. Whether listening to Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (Viking Juvenile, 1948), The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel, 1995), or Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Lantham (Houghton Mifflin, 1955), reading aloud affords our children more treasures than we can fathom, riches available for sharing with the next generation.
When my mom read Make Way for Ducklings to me, I am not sure she realized how her sacrifice of time and energy would engage my mind, capture my heart, or pave the path for her future grandchildren to be nurtured readers. The cycle began with ducks that crossed a busy Boston crosswalk.
Cheryl Bastian and her husband Mike have seven children and have been homeschooling since 1993, Cheryl organized and led a Central Florida support group, mentors current leaders, and remains active in the homeschooling community. As an author and speaker, Cheryl encourages parents to embrace the education and training of their children. Her books and resources are available at www.cherylbastian.com.
This article was previously published in Homeschooling Today magazine. Get more quality, relevant articles like these delivered to your door or to your inbox with your subscription to Homeschooling Today!