Read-aloud time is one of our favorite times of day. All the cares of the world are pushed aside along with the “study papers” and chores while we simply sit and absorb some great literature together. What could be better? And the benefits are tremendous …
1. The children learn to appreciate great literature.
We don’t choose picture books or abridged novels, and definately not serial fiction (the new Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown). We read lasting works of classic literature: Pilgrim’s Progress (the unabridged; it was worth it!); Treasures of the Snow; Old Yeller; The Chronicles of Narnia; The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh. Each book is chosen because it is a different genre than the last (there was an uproar when I announced Pooh! The minions thought it too light. But the vocabulary and subtle humor won them over). We relish each title as a journey taken together.
2. The children learn to love (not loath) great literature.
They hear how descriptive phrases impact their perception. They begin to incorporate broader vocabulary into their own usage. Works that seemed beyond their reach (too weighty, too long, too simple, too different) will suddenly seem accessible – then lovable – when walked through gently alongside their fellows. This became particularly true when we read Bunyan’s work together. It took us many months, working small sections at a time. But once Christian got moving down that road, the little ones could hardly wait to see where he ended up next. His struggles became their own. They never forgot the lessons he learned – they learned – along the way. And since, they carefully check every novel they find in the library: “Is it the original, unabridged? Is it really what he wrote?” They don’t want to miss a single, exciting word!
3. We all share the character lessons from each chapter, every page.
It is common now, as I read, that one will interrupt me with the observation, “He clearly could have made a wiser choice there, right?” And a discussion will begin on how easy it is to be led astray. Or an account may bring tears from one who feels guilty, and bursts out, “I’m SORRY! I didn’t mean to speak harshly to my brother!” and a reconciliation of past wrong is made. Reading aloud, in the intimate group, gives ample opportunity to identify struggles “common to man” and God’s Way of escape. It is a gentle way to learn.
4. The children learn to spend time thinking and studying for longer periods.
I believe this is important. In this day, it is common to make lessons shorter and shorter. Parents and teachers apologize for demanding the attention of their young. Adolescents balk at expending energy for lengths of time in arduous pursuits. This is to the detriment of character and work ethic. Instead, I strive to train my children to increase their attention, to focus their energy, and to give their all at the task at hand. Read-aloud time is another pleasant way to work on this discipline. Sitting still (or reclining quietly) to listen to Mommy read an exciting tale is not guelling; the least a young one can do is remain quiet and attentive to his mother’s voice. It is, after all, God’s plan for his life right now (Proverbs 1:8; 4:1-4; Deuteronomy 6:7).
5. We all grow closer through shared experiences and adventures.
We have our own Pooh jokes; we make comments during Narnia movies that my husband can’t even understand. A child may refer to his difficulty in Bunyan’s terms, and we all know what he is going through. Strangers look at us askance when Eldest Son calls the Baby “Little Arlis,” but we all know why he says that! We have been to these places, met these characters, fought these battles together, and we can’t wait to do yet more.
What will we read next? We are finishing up Milne’s poetry right now. Maybe a biography of George Mueller. Maybe The Trumpet of the Swan. Whatever we read, it will be our favorite hour of the day.