Mealtime Read-Alouds

January 27, 2005 @ 9:42 am | Filed under:

I love to read aloud to my kids. Before they were born, I imagined myself curled on the couch amid a passel of captivated children, doing voices for the characters and receiving a chorus of eager pleas for one more chapter, please, Mom…. And I got that, with my first child, and my second. Then Beanie came along, and suddenly, family read-alouds weren’t fun anymore. It’s not that I expected her, at age one or two, to listen raptly to the novels that entranced her older sisters. I just figured she’d be happy playing somewhere nearby while I read. This was not the case. She was a high-energy toddler who had to be moving at all times. Usually on my head. She’d bounce back and forth across the couch; she’d mess with my hair; she’d torment her sisters. She had no interest in going somewhere else while I read, or in playing with toys that delighted at other times. And it would have been contrary to my reasons for wanting to homeschool in the first place to banish her from the room every time I wanted to read to the others. I didn’t want her to feel exiled during storytime. That certainly would not inspire in her a love of stories.

What I had to do was find times to read when Bean was naturally occupied in some activity even more absorbing than Distracting Her Sisters. Her naptimes were an obvious choice. And at bedtime, when Daddy read to the big girls, I spirited Beanie away to another room for some special cuddle time with Mommy. I read to her, and by that time of day, she was ready to be still and listen. And of course, the books were at her speed, not her sisters’.

But bedtime and naptime isn’t enough time. Too many great books in the world! Fortunately there was an activity Beanie enjoyed even more than jumping on the sofa: eating. Three times a day, she was (and still is) a captive audience.

Some of our best family reading times are over meals. I read to them at breakfast—usually poetry. At lunch I read novels like The Bears of Hemlock Mountain (with its delightful refrain of “No bears, no bears, no bears at all”) or By the Great Horn Spoon. I read picture books like Peter Rabbit or The Maggie B. or Tikki Tikki Tembo—books my older children have almost forgotten, and my younger ones are discovering for the first time.

A little side note here about picture books. They aren’t just for little kids. In The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease tells about a high-school teacher who reads Judith Viorst’s picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to her students every year. Her teenagers listen raptly. They can relate to Alexander’s plight. Sometimes whole months of adolescence feel like a no good very bad day.

Back to our mealtime reading. I’ve learned to refill milk cups without breaking stride in the narrative. My picky eater forgets to pick—she’s into the story. And my wild wall-climbing preschooler shovels in her peas with her eyes fixed on the the picture I’m holding up.

Our breakfast poetry readings have done more to instill a love of poetry in my children than any curriculum I could have bought. I don’t make them memorize poems, but they do, because they ask for certain favorites over and over again. I read a mix of old favorites and new discoveries. Often I pick poems appropriate to the day’s weather, or the current season or holiday or animal we’ve been reading about or bird we’ve spotted on a nature walk. I read nonsense poems and serious, lyrical poetry. My little ones know Tennyson, Dickinson, Shakespeare, and Frost—not because I’ve taught these poets as schoolwork, but because they’ve joined us for breakfast so many a morning.

Our choices for novels are often dictated by what we’re interested in at the moment. In spring, our thoughts turn to green, growing things and fluffy animals. We follow “rabbit trails” of related books, like the year we hopped from Beatrix Potter to The Secret Garden to Redwall. In the winter, when we tend to read for longer stretches of time because we’re stuck indoors, we tend toward adventure stories and historical fiction.

Our suppertime book right now is Eleanor Estes’s hilarious Ginger Pye. It’s almost too funny for a mealtime read-aloud, because it’s encouraging bad manners in my gang—they keep laughing with their mouths full!

What are your family’s favorite read-alouds? Write me and I’ll post your recommendations.

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5 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Mary Beth Patnaude says:

    My favorite read a loud is the Bible. I love that my oldest son knows that nothing prevents us from having a Bible Story (some nights other stories are curtailed by something, such as getting home late. My oldest boy(6) also loves Mother Westwind, and Fantasy Books, such as Dragon Rider and Magic Treehouse. My little one (2) loves board books such as Ten Little Ladybugs, What Makes a Rainbow? and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He wants so much to be involved with his older brother’s stories, but usually ends up tumbling over his brother (and the reader) fairly quickly. My baby (11 Months) is beginning to take an interest in cloth books, and will patiently sit in his high chair at story time (if food is involved). Of course, I would be remiss if I fail to mention taht my boys love ANYTHING about dinosaurs. My oldest has brought home every book in the school library that remotely involves dinosaurs, and is on the 2nd time around for some.
    Mary Beth Patnaude
    Harpswell, ME

  2. LindaOz says:

    I’ve just found your blog and am going back to read old posts – very old posts. I don’t even know if you read comments on posts made this long ago but, just in case, I thought I’d respond. We are enjoying The Ranger’s Apprentice series as read-aloud. We are currently up to the ‘The Seige Of Macindaw’. These books are full of adventure, interesting characters, and humor. Even my teenage girls love them and beg for more 🙂

  3. LindaOz says:

    I’ve just discovered your blog and am going back to read old posts – very old posts. I don’t know if you even read comments on posts this old, but just in case, I thought I’d add mine. We are enjoying The Ranger’s Apprentice series as our family read-aloud. We are currently up to The Siege of Macindaw. These books are full of adventure, interesting characters, and humor. Even my teenage girls love them and beg for more 🙂

  4. LindaOz says:

    Oops! Sorry for the double post. I didn’t think that the first one worked so I tried again, and, lo and behold, it had.

  5. Melissa Wiley says:

    Linda, delighted you have found me & are enjoying old posts! First-time commenters get held in the moderation queue, so I probably happened to approve it at the exact same moment you were sending the second one through. 🙂 Glad to have you here!