The colors of fall have moved on, or rather moved indoors to dance in fireplaces and wood stoves. White blankets, frosty ice, and foggy breath greet us, as wool hats and gloves are donned, so that we can go about our days or just get out to where things are wide and open. These are the days for moving slowly.These are the days that welcome extra snuggles, warm meals, and shared stories. What better time for a family read around or read aloud, not only to connect us in story and in conversation, but also to help the wee ones (or old) learn to love to read. One of the many lessons my middle and high school students taught me, as their reading and writing teacher, is that you are never too old to hear a story read aloud. If given the choice, they were thrilled to stretch out on beanbag chairs and the floor and allow the story we were witnessing to live behind their eyelids.
Along our journey into story, we'd stop periodically to discuss our favorite parts, our questions, words or topics we weren't familiar with. We'd bridge back to related history or the events of today, to themes and symbols. Regardless of age, conversations about story help readers connect to story. Connecting to the story helps readers live in the story, which makes them want to read more, and in doing so, they become stronger readers.
Many books, short stories, poems, or essays can become a family read aloud. Taking turns choosing a text allows all members to feel invested and to experience new genres or stories one might not choose. Old favorites like the Little House series, Charlotte's Web, Harry Potter, and To Kill a Mockingbird, and new reads like The Hunger Games and The City of Ember, or poetry anthologies like This Same Sky, can create interesting conversations and, if wanted, help families discuss big topics in a safe, communal way.
In order to prompt discussion, one thing that can help everyone be involved is for the reader to pause after an important part or the end of a large section or chapter and simply open the room for discussion. To help prompt discussion, questions can be written on index cards and chosen randomly, be handed out, and used as inspiration. Questions might look like: What do you like or dislike about the story or characters? What do you wonder? What do you question? What do you see in your mind's eye while we're reading? What are you connecting to? What does this section remind you of? What do you think is going to happen?
These simple response questions lead readers deeper into a story, help them connect with each other, and possibly even help a reluctant reader want to read or be read to. So often students of mine who were reluctant or struggling readers had difficulty seeing the book’s images in their heads. We’d talk about the importance of seeing “the movie” that was being painted by the words. Once students realized this was something readers do and began to do so, they often found reading a lot more enjoyable and were able to connect and understand the text in a new way.
Another way to stimulate discussion is for the reader to pause and simply say, “Say something,” or “What do you picture?” or “What is on your mind?”.
Of course, reading together as a family helps foster a love and appreciation of reading too! The more we read to and with our children, the more they will love to read. Reclaiming time together, in story and imagination, means giving our children and ourselves the gift of a love of reading that can carry us through the dark days of winter into the beauty of spring and maybe to a new read on picnic blankets or with toes sunk in sand. The possibilities are truly endless.
Kelly Sage writes about simple living and the joy of doing so on her blog Sagetribe. After nine years of teaching middle and high school English, Kelly has recently begun to homeschool and put more energy into her love of writing. She facilitates writing circles at Writing for (a) Change in Bloomington, IN., loves to take family hikes, and put whole foods on the family table.