Read Aloud Suggestions
Establishing Read Aloud as a Family Habit
Depending on the purpose you choose for family read-aloud time and the amount of other activities that you wish to enjoin to this time, many options are available that will reinforce read aloud as an enjoyable and productive family time. As you can see from the suggestions offered below, you are only limited by your family structure and your imagination!
Timing the Read Aloud Sessions
Traditional time to read aloud with children has often been bedtime. With only one or two younger children, this may work best. If there are more children and a large span of years between the youngest and oldest child, consider having the older children read aloud to the middle children while the parents enjoy bedtime with the younger ones. There may be time during the day when the book can then be discussed, or you may wish to allow the older children tutorial rights in the bedtime discussion with their younger siblings. Many families prefer an afternoon cuddle time, after the majority of schoolwork is completed and younger ones are resting. If a parent or student can record the book on audiotape, more time options become open—including travel time. (Consider recording the book when it is read aloud with the children so they can replay it later—over and over if they wish.)
You may wish to consider the practice of the monasteries: read aloud at mealtimes when distractions are diminished without hindering the ability to concentrate. Consider the following advantages for each suggested read-aloud time:
- Establishes breakfast as a family time
- Minimizes late starts in the homeschool as education begins during breakfast
- Provides children with a deadline for arousing from sleep and a definite tardy time for morning stragglers—a spiritual wake-up program
- Provides a low-calorie meal for the reader
- Establishes lunch as a family time
- Continues the learning mode through the lunch break
- Provides a low-calorie meal for the reader
Tea Time (or Afternoon Nap Time)
- Establishes a special meal for read-aloud time
- Continues the learning mode through snack time
- Allows use of special dinnerware, utensils and linen
- Revives an old English custom
- Establishes supper as a family time
- Allows the possible participation of Dad
- Provides a low-calorie meal for the reader
Should mealtime not provide enough time for the entire read-aloud session or should you choose a time other than mealtime for oral reading, consider implementing some of the suggestions in the "Read-Aloud Activities" section below.
Begin each session with a gentle reminder that read-aloud time is quiet time. As most children will be unable to sit quietly with hands folded looking piously toward heaven while contemplating saintly behavior and the wonders of our Faith, prepare to have activities available to them to help minimize distractions, disruptions, and disagreements. You may wish to utilize some of the following activities to help maintain interest (and peace) during the reading sessions:
- Jigsaw puzzles: Any kind of jigsaw or board puzzle will do, especially the ones collecting dust from disuse. Religious puzzles can also be ordered. The older children, using blank puzzle forms, can make their own puzzles. (These are available from Rainbow Resource in packs of ten, ranging in size from nine to 154 pieces.) Pictures from any of the Windeatt coloring books, holy card collages, or original artwork can be pasted onto these blank puzzles.
- Beeswax: This can be used for modeling creations—or just for keeping restless hands busy.
- Wooden blocks, K’Nex, Legos®, Tinkertoys® or, best of all, Bristle Blocks: Many of the thinking skill games and manipulatives such as tangrams and pattern blocks could also be used during this time. Remember all those neat toys stashed away in the closet and under the bed? Quit waiting for that rainy day! Drag out all the reasonably quiet and at least nominally educational ones and allow playtime—for all ages. Consider limiting their use to read-aloud time to preserve the “specialness” of these toys and this time.
- Sewing cards: These can be purchased or made from holy cards or pictures laminated onto poster board. (Clear Contact paper also works well as a protective cover.) Punch holes around the outside of the cards and allow the children to sew. Long colorful shoelaces work well as thread and needle. Older children can make these for younger children. These also make quiet toys to take to Mass or to keep young fingers busy during the recitation of the rosary.
- Paper dolls and/or puppets: These can be purchased or, again, made by the older children during reading time, then shared with the younger ones. Purchased paper dolls could be modified to resemble the book characters or characters from the Windeatt coloring books could be utilized. Popsicle or craft sticks could be used for simple puppets. Paper dolls from the various religious orders can be made from cutouts of the Blessings doll collection catalog.
- Art activities: Read-aloud time can double as art class. (Beware of the noise factor here especially if used with younger students.) Mary Fabyan Windeatt has numerous coloring books on Catholic religious figures. Catholic Heritage Curricula also has a simple Catholic how-to-draw book (ages three and up) as well as inexpensive Artpacs (Art with a Purpose) which are available for different grades and have varied art projects. A box of crayons or pencils and a sketchpad may be all that is needed. Perhaps your budding artists can illustrate several scenes from the book and add simple narration for a simplified book. Make decorations for specific holy days or seasons, or projects relating to the liturgical calendar or saint of the day. (Some of these activities will require advance planning.)
- Rosary construction: Beads as well as sturdy string can be purchased at any craft store; pony beads work well or use large, wooden beads for smaller fingers. These rosaries can be set up as permanent keepsakes or put on shoelaces to teach youngsters to string beads, sort by color, count, etc. Kits can be ordered to make rosaries for the missions; these require pliers and some acquired skill and are appropriate for older students or adults. Chaplets for various saints or particular devotions—i.e. a chaplet to the Blessed Sacrament—can be constructed as well as Saint Therese’s sacrifice beads—or “good deed beads”.
- Crafts: This could be the time for craft projects—the ones that never quite get done—or sometimes even started! These projects might include knitting, cross-stitch, calligraphy, leather-craft, origami, crochet, plastic canvas, or any other type of handcraft. This would require advance instruction and a certain attained level of skill in order to reduce interruptions and frustration. Catholic programs similar to scouting programs are available for family activities: The Pilgrims of the Holy Family, Little Flower Girls’ Club, and Blue Knights Boys’ Club. Many of these activities and crafts could be quietly completed during family read-aloud time.
- Pantomime: Particularly appealing to younger children, this will require slower, more careful reading through these passages or perhaps a read-through followed by a second reading. Passages that have several characters in conversation or passages with action are best. If this gets too interruptive, limit this to “face making” during the reading to indicate the feelings and mood of the characters.
- Note-taking: If any of the students will be completing a book report, the reading session may be used to jot down vocabulary words, draw maps, or gather information for timelines and litanies.
- Narration: Students of all ages should be instructed to listen carefully to the chapter(s) read each day so they will be prepared to narrate or summarize each day’s reading. Narration, a teaching method used by the English educator Charlotte Mason, is simply a retelling of the story. Begin each day’s oral narration with the younger students and have the older ones elaborate. Students could keep a journal of saint narrations as well as their own reflections on the saint and/or the book as part of their writing assignment. They might also take turns acting out the scenes, or the older students may narrate for the younger actors.
As some of the above-suggested read-aloud activities may be distracting, use the technique of narration daily to check each child’s comprehension of the material. Discontinue those activities that consume too much of a child’s attention and cause distraction. If they know they will be asked to narrate, the children are more likely to pay close attention to the reading. Narration easily tests comprehension. (Note: The “Comprehension Questions/Narration Prompts” sections in each of the Race For Heaven study guides provide prompts for narrators; the “Forming Opinions/ Drawing Conclusions” sections provide topics to be probed further.) Upon completion of each read-aloud book, it is recommended that some type of summary activity be done to insure that the desired lessons have been assimilated. The Race For Heaven study guides all contain a short book summary test. Students may also be asked to complete a book report of each book read. See the book report resource from Race For Heaven for many creative book report ideas.
Dealing with Varied Student Ages
Most of the books in the Mary Fabyan Windeatt saint series will appeal as read-alouds to all ages; however, some books are clearly intended for older audiences with expanded vocabulary and more mature themes. Like the Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" books, Ms. Windeatt wrote this series on several different reading levels. (See "A Word About Grade Level" for the twenty Windeatt biographies.)
Because of the varying vocabularies and level of themes within the Windeatt biographies, you may wish to choose first from the following books when reading with primarily a younger audience: Saint Thomas Aquinas, Children of Fatima, Saint Rose of Lima, Patron of First Communicants, Saint Catherine of Siena, and The Little Flower. These have a higher degree of crowd appeal and would make better beginning choices. Because these contain more difficult passages and less action, the following appeal less to younger children or reluctant readers: Saint Louis de Montfort, Blessed Marie of New France, Pauline Jaricot, Saint Margaret Mary, Saint John Masias, and Saint Francis Solano.
In families with large age spans between children, the subject of what to read is further complicated by the issue of who should read. Ideally, older students will assume this responsibility. Reading aloud is an art. Appropriate reading pace and expression come with practice; allow opportunities for all to practice, but be aware of the frustration points of both the listeners and the reader. Remember, too, that older students may appreciate some time to participate in the read-aloud activities rather than always reading. Vary the level of what is read as well as the reader.
* * *These are beginning ideas only—feel free to experiment to find what works for your family. Some parents read to their children as they play computer or other electronic games. What will make your children beg for read-aloud time? As the read-loud tradition does become more firmly entrenched in your family, expand your selections. See the Race For Heaven article on the value of family spiritual read-aloud. Continue reading more saint biographies. Purchase Reading the Saints, a resource that lists over 800 Catholic saint series books for various reading lists. Check out the array of excellent historical fictions books offered by Bethlehem Books.
Additional Read Aloud Resources
- The Art of Reading Aloud, an article written by Maureen Wittmann and her suggested list of Favorite Children's Stories to Read Aloud.
- Another Catholic mother's list of read-alouds that her family read in 2006 here. (Be sure to browse her site and check out all the book and Catholic bloggers' links!)
- Kate Pitrone's article, On Reading Aloud.
- Many of the books found on the Race For Heaven Links page, under "Book Lists" would also make excellent read aloud choices.
- Don't forget the Bible (or a Bible story book) as a read aloud choice!