Hummm…was it the giggles the whole way through adventures with Pooh? My constant sobbing through every page of The Little Preacher? Our total addiction to every single page of Pilgrim’s Progress? The giggles and strategy as the children would run off to “play” every single bit of Daniel Boone’s life—with stiff warnings from Mom that NO ONE really got the hair-cut! Peeking outside to see the hard, hard work as forts were raised and mud pies “baked” for our beloved “soldier.” Oh, the precious, precious memories! Precious memories that are OURS forever!
Why not make it a priority to curl up as a family over the pages of a great book each day? Get the water going…pull out some nice snacks…settle down for tea (or hot cocoa!!)…and dig into great books! Game? But have no idea where to begin?? Come home with our family and get a picture of how easy AND awesome building a memory—over a great book—can be!
Over the years, I have found that even though I LOVE great literature and believe passionately in the power of a great book to inspire us toward greatness, teach those facts in a palitable manner, and feed our hungry minds with great ideas, there has still been a constant battle with distractions from our beloved typical family reading time. Constant phone calls…friends dropping by…never the same day to day family life because of constant interruptions…the list could go on and on! I found that we needed a more consistent time to read, study, and cuddle. A time that was just ours!
The best time for this was at the end of our busy day. Our family reading tradition began years ago when my husband worked as a State Trooper. We found ourselves up until very late hours. Those last few hours before he came in seemed perfect. They were not likely to be times for calls, errands, or drop-by guests. They were the easiest to preserve for our special time whether we were on the road traveling or cuddling on our sofa or snuggled in my bed for a nice, long read aloud! Those moments were the perfect ones for our family. Now, since the children are almost grown up, the schedule is more complex than ever, and dad is now retired and running the family business the ONE constant that we all cry out for in the midst of busy or chaotic or even the most hum-drum day is our evening family read aloud and pow-wow time!
So, the first things to decide–what time would work best for your family? Look at your schedule? What time of the day is the most constant…the most uninterrupted…the easiest to settle down? Set that time aside—you have a treasure house of memories coming your way!
Perhaps a set time is not the problem. Perhaps the greatest need is dealing with the struggles that make read-alouds an utter impossibility. An ideal! Certainly not a reality! You know…settling down the children…containing the messes long enough to finish one small part of a story…getting their interest? The habit that becomes a treasured tradition begins bit-by-bit! Here are a few ideas that may help:
* Get to know YOUR family and their interests. Each and every family is completely unique. What we love to read as a family, your family may not like at all! Our children may be completely different ages as yours. Our family preferences may be completely different than yours. In fact, our choices for read-alouds now that our children are at these ages are very different from the choices we made in the early years. The key to a sizzling read aloud program rests with getting to know YOUR family and their interests and then basing your choices upon where you are.
* Use a reading list! Have no idea which books to begin with? TOTALLY confused with all of the options? We have a couple of recommendations. First, we recommend our book The Never-ending Rushton Reading List (soon to be re-released in ebook format after being TOTALLY revamped–working on that now!). It is very reasonable, compact, simple, and easy to begin using today. It includes suggestions that are perfect for teaching every subject with great books AND it has a basic list of recommended read alouds that EVERY (smile!) family should read through! As they get older, another recommendation that we have is our book Inspiring Our Children Toward Greatness Using Great Literature (also, out of print right now–look for it to be re-released in ebook format very soon too! One powerful book!) which has an extended list of recommendations for life-transforming literature and great books that you won’t want to miss. You can also find great recommendations in other books, catalogs, and at your local library.
* Make it FUN! Reading need not resemble the drudgery from our school days. Rather, it can be a great big family party! We have a daily “tea time” with our read alouds. When the children were little, I found very soon that our children were much more attentive if their bellies were full and their hands busy. Being a “tea-time addict,” it was almost the “given” thing to do! This may seem a bit artificial to your family. Find what works. Some families settle down with snacks like our family. Others entertain the children with play-doh to keep their hands busy while mommy reads. Other families give their children sketch books to “draw” what they imagine while mommy reads the book. Just make it a FUN family time! You will be amazed at how much the children will learn while making a memory!
The still, quiet spirit of our home was only the first part of this special family tradition! Great books were musts! My children love to read. We have a library just for them filled with books that they can choose during their free time. They cover a wide-range of studies just by using whole, living books full of ideas and great information. For our read alouds, I did not want a repeat of those books. Instead, I wanted life-changing literature. Because of this heartbeat, I am extremely selective to choose the very BEST books for this special time.
I have a very simple test for discerning if the books are life-changing. I ask myself, “If these were the last moments that I had with my children, would this be the book that I would want to be the LAST ONE?? Would this be the memory that I want for them to carry with them?” “Is this book capable of teaching those life-lessons that they need to carry them through life?” This limits my choices to those books that are absolute MUSTS for my children. Those books that all well-educated children should dine upon. Those books that feed the spirit…challenge the soul…and encourage us to keep on persevering through it all!
I have been amazed at the way the Lord has led us by His Spirit to each book that He has wanted for us to read as a family. From The Hiding Place to Basket of Flowers to The Elsie Series to Hedge of Thorns to Passion and Purity to great poetry to Christmas stories to a multitude of biographies…God has had specific direction for us right when we needed to know His next choice!
Once I know which book we will read next, I usually hunt for a nice, large print edition, if at all possible. These are wonderful for helping us take turns. My son used to be so intimidated by small print in books. The large print editions are easier for him to read comfortably from. They also make great texts for copywork lessons. I saw the advantage to the large print as we read from Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. There were so many wonderful quotes that I felt were important for the children to copy into their copybooks. While we read aloud, I simply marked them with a highlighter. On those mornings that the children were drawing blanks for copywork ideas, all they had to do was open that book to find a plethora of excellent choices! I found that to be helpful for my writing and speaking as well because I could easily find those great thoughts that had been planted in my mind while we read!
We usually take turns reading. This is the perfect way to help beginning readers ease into reading aloud for others. Their work can be so mundane if they practice with readers or insignificant reading lessons. A great book invites children to read with expression. When I would notice them tiring out, (you probably know that time because that is when they get REAL monotone…AKA boring!!) I would join in and read for a little while. That usually brightened up the pace so that when they would begin again, they would sound expressive and enthusiastic. Now, I absolutely LOVE to listen to them read aloud. It is neat to hear them stress those words that I would stress…or pause as I would pause! What a treasure!
Well, that is only part of the treasure! One thing that I love about this precious time with my children is that I find out just what they think, feel, and believe. We have tremendous discussions almost nightly about great ideas. I remember this being a goal for my children as they matured into adulthood. I never dreamed that I could have this blessing with little children! It is during these quaint moments of reading while sipping our tea, that I get a peek into their heart! I see their heart’s desires…their struggles in their character…the depths that God’s Word has worked in their lives…and their instant choices when faced with adversity (through the pages of the books). I can also help them trouble-shoot making decisions that may prevent them from irreparable errors later in their lives! Yes, those are the gifts that come with serving up great literature to our children.
Our daily read aloud time is just this easy. We don’t make it complicated by tests…by book reports…by written narrations on all we read. We are not even legalistic that our time be limited to books. We have been known to cuddle up with art prints JUST like we do our books. When we include art prints, we simply cuddle up to “listen” to the artist as he or she communicates through the canvas. My little ones have been known to sketch or paint the recent art print with their own style while I read a section from a great book. We also LOVE biographies, so we have enjoyed reading sketches about artists or the latest composer that we are getting to know! Each day, we use this time to also read through the Bible together as a family. This only takes minutes, yet the results have been overwhelming in our lives. Just a bit here and a bit there has helped to carry us into our world with a little bit more understanding about the worldviews of our culture! Not to mention, great art and music feed our minds with ideas that keep us growing into the vessels that God can really use in our culture!
Well, why not put on a little Classical Music in the background. Warm some water…EVEN if you prefer to use it for hot chocolate with fluffy marshmallows! 🙂 Dust off those poetry books or that book you keep putting off for another day. Curl up with your little ones…there is NOTHING quite like the memory that can be made over a great book!!