Ever had a moment with friends when someone quotes a movie or book you love, and suddenly all those who have seen or read it join in, throwing out their favorites lines? (Cue your favorite Anne of Green Gables quotes now in the comments, bosom friends and kindred spirits.) What feels so good about a conversation like that is that you are all “insiders” on a shared experience.
You can harness that same powerful bond in your own family when you read aloud great books together.
That’s one of the strengths of a literature-based education. The information printed on the page (while crucial) is only part of the benefit to your children. The shared experience and emotional bonds are just as important in shaping who they are.
Having a robot or a computer spout the information to your child wouldn’t provide the same education for the whole person. Your children will look back on that book and recall not just the content, but they will remember the cuddles, the laughter, the quality time together, the feeling of being loved. They’ll remember watching you cry over the ending and enjoy reminiscing with siblings over that story.
This shared dynamic is a powerful gift to your homeschool experience. It’s also a key ingredient in building a legacy of lifelong learners.
There are a jillion reasons reading aloud to your children is a great idea, but I want to pause and unpack just a few of the intangible relational benefits.
Here are three ways reading aloud to your children, no matter their age, strengthens your family identity and relationships.
- The "insider" factor: The experience of reading aloud together offers us a shared adventure and mutual "friends."
My college roommate and I had only known each other for a few hours when I knew we would be good buds. We had few surface commonalities. (I was a Southern gal with a drawl and a penchant for fried okra, she was a “Northerner” who used essential oils before it was cool and ate her veggies raw.) Even though we had never met before, we quickly bonded over our bookshelves and realized we had mutual friends: Lucy and Edmund, Charlotte and Wilbur, Elizabeth and Darcy, Cosette and Jean Valjean. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but we could both relate to this whole world that we each had "lived in" once upon a time with our own families.
When we read quality books aloud with our children, we share a common experience that we can look back on and reference for years to come. The books we read are woven into the fabric of our family culture and identity. We have ventured into unknown worlds together; we can speak the language. We are insiders to the story. Talk about a powerful bond!
2. We also share our reactions to the stories we read together.
Powerful books that touch us tend to draw out emotions that we all process and share together. So your children aren’t just affected by the story itself, they also watch your reaction to it and learn empathy from your emotions. It can be a good thing for kids to see what we value as they watch mom or dad cry or belly laugh. When we share the experience, we are vulnerable side by side, hearts laid bare, wanting truth, justice or that happy ending together.
I love watching my six-year-old son’s face when I pause at a cliff-hanger. He can barely stand to wait and find out what happens and he even starts to pace while I read sometimes, feeling the tension and rooting on the protagonist. I find that watching his reactions double my pleasure of reading a book, especially one I already love. I can’t wait to introduce him to certain books that I loved as a child!
Every year for as long as I can remember, my family has gathered around at Christmas to hear my dad read aloud from The Donkey’s Gift. I settle in and wait for the unique voices for each character and feel as if the world is, for a moment, as it should be. The experience of listening to him read that familiar book is a flood of positive memories and a sense of security. Every word carries with it a reminder of love communicated, quality time, laughing out loud, and sacred tradition. Even as adults with our own children, we go out of our way to make it happen, because it’s what we do.
3. Finally, we grow closer together through the discussions that spring from the stories we read.
You may have conversations that would never arise but for a book you are reading together. Maybe you discuss World War II and good and evil when you read Twenty and Ten. You might discuss the power of our words or what it feels like to be an immigrant after you read The Hundred Dresses. Books are catalysts for discussing ideas, processing worldview and forming character. Take advantage of the time to discuss a broad array of ideas now with your children close to you. This process will put them in good stead for sorting out other ideas they encounter once they leave home.
When you share moving, inspiring tales together with your family, you are creating a family culture that values reading. You are building a legacy of a love for learning in your home. And perhaps most important of all, you are also paving the way to become kindred spirits.
What about you? Do you have special memories of books shared with your family?