8 homeschool read aloud tips for families

Do you remember the first chapter book that you read as a kid? Or maybe one that was read to you by a parent, family member, or teacher? Stories have so much power to shape us because good books give us the chance to step into the shoes of another and see the world (or an imaginary world!) through their eyes. Both fiction and nonfiction stories grow our imagination and shape our character in incredible ways. 

That’s part of what’s so special about reading books together. Experiencing these stories as we read aloud to our children is a beautiful way to spend time together and enjoy a literary adventure together.  

As we read together, we can create a culture of literature in our homes. I want our home to be one where books are valued and enjoyed, both together and independently. Reading to our children is a beautiful step in creating a culture of loving good books. 

Here are some homeschool read aloud tips to help your family find more success reading together.

How to choose books for read alouds

One of the most important aspects of reading together is choosing a great book! I’ve found that relying on trusted book lists―either online, in books, or as part of a curriculum―is a helpful navigation tool when it comes to choosing our next story. If I see a book appear on several book lists, I know it’s likely one that deserves a closer look. 

The more you read together, the more familiar you’ll become with what authors and genres are a good fit for your family. 

Consider your child’s age and stage

When selecting books, it can be helpful to consider the age range provided by the publisher, however, you know your children best. When choosing a book for a read aloud, we can not only consider their ages or grades, but we must also consider their maturity and sensitivity level as well. When in doubt, it’s okay to wait a little longer before introducing a book. 

You can also consider pre-reading the book on your own to determine if it’s the right fit for your children. While this takes more time, it’s a great way to remain invested in your own literary life (which is also important for creating a literary environment in your family!). It can also be helpful to find an audiobook version of the story that you can all enjoy together.

Reading over your child’s head

Instead of always picking a book you know they will grasp in every way, consider reading a chapter book that’s a bit of a stretch for your children. While you want to ensure the content is appropriate for their age, diving into a book with rich literary language is one of the best ways to help organically grow their vocabulary and reading abilities because reading over their heads allows your child’s mind to reach a little higher.

Earlier this year, I read The Princess and The Goblin by George MacDonald with my oldest children (they were 5 and 7 at the time). The story was incredibly engaging, and they really enjoyed it! The language was also incredibly rich and even complicated at times. While this book took us a while to read, it was absolutely worth the time and effort. It was a wonderful way to enjoy new vocabulary and be exposed to some beautiful classic literature. 

Reading with multiple ages

If you have listeners of all ages, you’ll want to make sure the book is interesting and appropriate for all children. Another option is to have separate story times depending on their ages. For example, I typically do a bedtime read aloud with my 6- and 8-year-olds. Due to their ages, we’re able to enjoy books such as The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, and the full Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These books are great for their listening level, but would be more challenging for my preschooler.

My 4-year-old enjoys picture books and the occasional short chapter book, such as the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo and The Adventures of Sophie Mouse series by Poppy Green. Having separate read aloud times allows me to meet my children right where they are in terms of ability and focus level. 

Make the most of read aloud time

If you’ve ever thought that your children need to sit quietly and be still while listening to a book to ensure they’re really listening, let me bring you some good news: Movement is great! 

There are so many wonderful activities children can do while listening to books and still engage with the story. This may include coloring, drawing, doing puzzles, playing with playdough, or even playing quietly with toys. In our home, the guidelines are that they can play during storytime as long as they aren’t loud or disruptive. 

Click here for more tips on how to turn a book into a lesson!

When the book isn’t working

If a book isn’t working for you or your children, give yourself freedom to step back from it. It’s okay to take a break from reading it and try again later, or to remove it from your reading list entirely. 

When we first started reading My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, my children just weren’t interested in the story. While we could have pushed through, I simply closed the book and sent it back to the library. A year later, we picked up the book again and my children absolutely loved it! They were so engaged in the story and kept asking me to read more, there’s now a copy sitting on our home shelves so we can read it again and again. 

If you come across unexpected content that you feel isn’t appropriate for your family or children, it’s absolutely okay to close the book. As the parent, caregiver, or educator, we’re responsible for what we’re reading aloud. If something doesn’t align with your family values, this can be a great opportunity for a conversation with your children about why you’re not continuing with the book. 

When this happens, it can be helpful to pick up a different book or return to a trusted picture book right away to help redirect and move forward without losing your momentum as readers. 

Establishing the read aloud habit

If you’re finding it difficult to fit read-aloud time into your schedule, try looking at it as a new habit and consider how you can make it successful. Is there a natural time in your family’s rhythm or schedule that would work well for read-aloud time? This may be at the beginning of your school day, during a snack or meal, after an afternoon rest or nap, or before bed. 

Remember that read aloud time doesn’t have to be elaborate or lengthy. Instead it’s a beautiful opportunity to experience stories together. 

What to do after you finish a book

Often, reading a book together will open doors of natural conversation. Maintain the joy of the story by allowing these discussions to be natural and casual. While it may feel tempting to quiz the child on what they learned or to make sure they understood certain aspects, this can take away from the story itself. 

Let the book speak directly to your child. While we can come alongside our children and join in the discussion, we don’t want to get in the way of their experience with the book. 

You may also consider keeping a reading log of which books you’ve read or listened to. This can be a helpful way to remember which books you’ve already enjoyed. It can be as simple as keeping a list with the name of the book and author, or you may want to include notes such as when you finished the book, whether it was a physical book or an audiobook, if it’s a book you own or borrowed, and if you enjoyed it. 

I like to include which children heard the story so I can make sure my younger ones get to experience those same books when they are ready for them. 

Book by book we can create this beautiful culture of literature in our homes. 

At the Learn + Live Letter, we not only provide unit study curriculum that is flexible and fun but also support parents and grownups teaching them along the way. Learn more about our program here and why we love unit studies here. We look forward to the opportunity to learn + live with you throughout your homeschool experience! Click here to subscribe!

Leah Nicklaus

Leah is a Midwest mama of four boys. She homeschools following the literature-based Charlotte Mason philosophy and is passionate about beautiful books. You can follow her on Instagram at @lovingleadinglittles.

Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.