Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reading Aloud

In March of 2011, at our annual h/schooler's conference, I listened to the keynote speaker talk about the importance of parents reading aloud to their children.  Duh, I thought.  But the rest of his talk struck a real chord with me.

He told a story about one of his daughters, who was about nine years old when the event happened that he referred to.  He had always been very impressed with how many books his daughter read; volume after volume of novels, most of them several hundred pages in length, that she whipped through in a matter of days.  Then one evening, he decided to read aloud to her one of the books that she had been reading to herself.  As he read to her, he was shocked when she continually asked him to skip over the 'boring' paragraphs and get to the more interesting stuff.  He realized how she was able to 'read' so quickly, and this observation was the beginning of years of study on his part into the language development of children.

Amongst other things that he said, he noted that children need to be read aloud to precisely because they can't skip words or paragraphs and because, in order to build a child's language, they need to hear it all.  He encouraged parents to read to their children at a level slightly above the child's comprehension level.  Then, shocker of all shockers, he said that the ideal amount of time to read aloud to a child for language development and comprehension was about two hours a day.

I blanched at that number.  Two hours a day??  Who's he kidding??  At the time, I was certainly reading aloud every day to Matthew, often for a lengthy period of time...but two hours??  That seemed terribly unrealistic.

But then one comment helped me to breathe again:  Reading aloud, from this speaker's perspective, absolutely included audio books.

Whew, I thought, knowing that Matthew was crazy about audio books.  In fact, he's been listening to audio books since he was four years old.  For his fifth birthday he received a CD player for his birthday gift and the audio book obsession flourished.  For his eighth birthday this spring, his gift from Geoff and me was an ipod nano; my parents' gift was a docking station so that he could listen to his ipod on speaker.  Audio books are the only things loaded onto his ipod.

Matthew has listened to hundreds of audio books.  It consistently remains one of his favourite things to do.  Often during the day, always before sleeping, usually while lying on his belly on his bed and drawing or colouring or crafting or doing word search puzzles, he listens and listens and listens.  It was also an indescribable help for me during the first year that Seth and Lizzie were home; when things were really hard with Seth, and when Matthew was losing it, being able to curl up in his own little world of audio books for an hour here or there was a lifesaver for him, and helped to remove him from some of the worst of the multi-hour screaming sessions that we all endured with Seth.  Even now, if Matt's having a hard day or having a hard time managing himself with his siblings, it's always a calming thing for him to be able to sit in the library or on his bed for even fifteen minutes listening to a book while relaxing his body and brain.

Along with my h/school plans for this year, I developed out-loud reading lists for each of the kids.  Many of the books I chose for Matthew can be found in audio book form, notably Newbery award winners and most top-100 books.   And so I signed up for, picked through our public library selections to see which of the books on his list could be listened to via ipod or CD player, and put in more big orders from amazon and when I saw sales.

In the past three weeks alone, Matthew has listened to: two, 4-CD volumes of Adventures in Odyssey stories; the first three volumes of The Boxcar Children; Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief; the first volume of Donald Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown; and he is about an hour from completing the 8.5 hour story of The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall.  That totals approx. 35 hours of listening what he's hearing from Geoff and me!

Waiting in the wings (in my iTunes library, ready for download to his ipod) I have: Bridge to Terabithia; the next two volumes of The Boxcar Children; and The Secret Garden.  I have 40+ kids' audio books chosen on my wish list just waiting to get moved over to my cart!

In addition, I'm reading the first of the Little House on the Prairie books to all three kids, and various short stories.

It's utterly amazing to me how much reading can be done via careful selections of books, audio and otherwise.  There's no doubt that Matthew is being read aloud to a minimum of two hours/day, between me and his audio book selection, and I am thrilled that this is such a big love for him.

Another delightful aspect of this is that Seth is beginning to catch the obsession, too.  He wants to be like his big brother and this is one way I see it evidenced in a really positive way.  For his birthday this summer, Seth received his first CD player and a number of stories and books on CD.  At first he thought it was "pretty good" and I never forced it.  But in the past month or so, I've noticed a definite inclination to copy what Matthew does and so I often find the boys lying on one of their beds, both on their stomachs, both drawing or colouring and both listening to whatever story happens to be playing.  They are the picture of companionable silence when they're like this!  Yesterday I happened to check in on them as Matthew was asking Seth to 'help' him with his word search puzzle; I was pretty impressed by Matthew's request given that he knows how hard Seth has to work at anything letter-related.  But the audio book listening has been a bonding experience for them of late and when Seth agreed to try to help with the word search, I couldn't help but notice and be a little wowed by Matthew's unusual degree of patience with Seth's attempts.

Last week, Seth completed the first four Magic Treehouse audio books and this week started listening to them again.  I have encouraged him to listen to his books two or three times, simply because his comprehension increases so much on the second or third listen.  Today he came to me to ask for to my ears!  It just so happens that I have more audio books waiting in the wings for him too!

Next up:  Lizzie!


  1. HI Ruth,

    Awesome post!!
    There's SO much research on the positive effects of reading aloud to children. Plus, it's FUN!

    I thought of another excellent resource book for you. It's my VERY favourite. It's by a british author, Aidan Chambers, and is about reading with children and talking with them about books. I have read it so many times yet everytime it feels fresh. Here is the link on his website. I can't see the book on Amazon which is weird... I had no problem getting it quite recently. I know it has a canadian distributor. I'll find out for you! It's a really easy and enjoyable read.

    Also, i know you are a big reader of diverse books. Aidan Chambers is one of the best YA writers in the world. He has won the Carnegie Medal and his books are VERY popular in europe. I'd highly recommend "Now I Know". It's about a teenage boy grappling with Christianity. I think you'd enjoy it. Aidan Chambers used to be an Anglican monk. There's a sequel (sort of) called "This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn" which I cried my way through.


  2. Thanks Jackie - much, much appreciated. I always love getting your comments!!! I've never heard of this Aidan Chambers but I'll check him out.

    And yeah, if you find out who that Canadian distributor is, I'd love to know.

    Thanks again Jackie - you're the best!



  3. OK, Jackie, I just found both books on I added them to my cart so that the next time I put an order in I can get them too. Sadly, I just last week received an order from amazon, and I won't again for 2-3 months...but they're in my cart waiting for me.

    Thanks very much again!!


  4. Hi Ruth,

    Did you really find the 'new' edition of "Tell Me" on Amazon? The latest one is revised in 2011 and is even better! It includes two books "The Reading Environment" and "Tell Me". But I just found on his website... it says it is available through Pembroke publishers in Canada... but I can't find it there either. For what it's worth, here's Aidan Chambers' link about how to get it in Canada. I definitely got mine from Pembroke:

    Anyway, that older 1996 version of "Tell Me" is still really good. And "The Reading Environment" might not be as relevant to your homeschooling situation... I'm not sure. He discusses so many simple yet deep ways to draw children into reading and talking about books. "Tell Me" is deceptively simple when you first read it, just a little book and easy to read, yet the more I read it, the deeper and more profound it becomes.

    I have books waiting in my cart for me too! Sometimes it has hundreds of dollars worth! Then i have to choose when it comes to ordering day.... sigh. But there is always the library. Have you read the YA novel "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" by Laini Taylor? I don't remember if it was on your reading list. I just loved it. It was so surprising. The sequel comes out in a few weeks. yeah. It's in my cart.


  5.'re right...wrong edition!

    I just sent an email to Pembroke asking about the 2011 edition...we'll see.

    I'll also check out the Laini Taylor book - thanks for the great suggestion(s)!! Love it.

    Hugs, Jackie.


    PS. I'll let you know what Pembroke says.

  6. Jackie, an update - I heard back from Pembroke and this is what she said:

    "Pembroke distributes the original version of “Tell Me” on behalf of its American publisher, Stenhouse Publishers. As far as we know, there is no North American edition of the revised 2011 work, nor or there immediate plans to publish one. The information on Aidan Chambers’ website does seem to apply to the original edition.

    It does seem from the UK publishers website that they will accept US & Canadian orders.

    Sorry that we couldn’t be of more help."

  7. Hmmm... interesting. I had no trouble getting 60 copies of it for my classes last semester... the bookstore must have ordered them from the UK I suppose. I thought they got them from Pembroke. Anyway, it doesn't matter. The older version of "Tell Me" is really wonderful. The changes aren't that much. I'd recommend to just get that one!


  8. The original version of "Tell Me" is wonderful. There aren't many changes... the essential spirit of it is exactly the same. Aidan Chambers is my hero. He makes teaching, and reading books with children, seem simple and beautiful. Which it is!

  9. Your post inspired me to take a trip to our local library today and pick up a bunch of longer audio chapter books for my eldest to listen to at bedtime. To date, we have done a lot of children's short CD's/books, but never any chapter books. I got her Mary Poppins and told her once she had listened to the book that we would have a Mary Poppins movie night- she's thrilled. Thanks for the nudge. :) There are so many books I can't wait to read with her. I saw Heidi and The Secret Garden today and remembered how I loved them as a child.

  10. Ahh, that's awesome Kristin!! I hope she totally loves them and, if so, it's such a wonderful way to keep her entertained and build her language simultaneously.