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AO Readalouds AmblesideOnline.org

AmblesideOnline: Readalouds



Question: Is it true that reading aloud, which should be a warm memory for every family, is discouraged in a Charlotte Mason education?




I think it's one thing to enjoy the experience of sharing a book together, and another for Mom to be reading for hours a day until her throat is hoarse simply because her children haven't learned the discipline of focusing on their work without her. Mom should read aloud because it's enjoyable, not because school won't get done unless she does.

I think we'll probably always have one book going that we read aloud in my own family. But I also know that I won't have successfully done my job of raising my sons to be readers unless they learn to get into a challenging book themselves without having to have me read it to them.

Leslie Noelani




It's not that reading aloud to your children is wrong, or something Charlotte Mason would have condemned outright. To say that we are somehow in disagreement with Charlotte Mason or AmblesideOnline when we choose to read something aloud to our children is to misunderstand the gist of the philosophy, dear friends.

The point is that our highest aim as educators is to graduate mature learners who can and will pick up high level reading materials and tackle them with ease. This takes practice. Let me state the obvious: Charlotte Mason wanted children to develop the skill of reading for themselves. She wanted to them get at their lesson books themselves. But this is not the same thing as saying that it's somehow wrong to read aloud to a child - as long as their reading experience is balanced, and ever challenging them to develop higher skills.

I did read aloud to my older children a lot when they were younger, but as they have grown, I have been intent on weaning them from needing me to do it. I enjoy reading to them, and they love it, too. It's a pleasure. So we keep a family readaloud going - usually something outside of school books. But each year I have diminished my involvement in reading their lesson books, because my goal in lessons is not warm fuzzy family fun - it's to turn out grown children who are power readers who can out-read their Mama-Dah here. <g>

My oldest child is 13 and in 8th grade, and I still choose one of her books to read with her per term. I know beyond a doubt that she can read that book on her own, every term - which is one of the reasons I feel good about reading it aloud to her. I don't do it for her because she can't, but rather for other reasons... I think there's a lot to be gained in reading a book with someone (and I generally choose the book from her schedule that digs the deepest into philosophical or political things). I know that she enjoys some "brain company" for half an hour a couple of days each week - this can be a rarity for young readers, and I think particularly homeschoolers. Plus, it keeps me tuned into her academic world a little better. This is balanced for her - it's healthy.

But if I were reading four, half, most or all of her books at this point, that would NOT be healthy nor balanced, and it would definitely not be challenging her to push toward becoming the kind of reader who can manage heavy reading independently. Paying pure, unwavering attention to a voice is a very different mental skill than paying the same sort of rapt attention to thoughts transmitted through inky squiggles on a page. Developing the former skill does not develop the latter (although it does improve vocabulary). If a normal child gets midway through his school years and still needs Mom to read his lesson books to him, or complains when she doesn't, you may be sure that Charlotte Mason would have been concerned about that - and we should be as well.

It's easier to sit and listen to someone read than to grapple with a book yourself. I would love to be read to every day myself! But I also know that if most books I encounter came to me through someone else reading them aloud to me, I would most assuredly get lazy, and lose a lot of my capacity to read heavy books on my own. I've listened to enough books on tape to know that once you get used to it, you can get more than a little spoiled. <g> But you would never truly find fluency, proficiency and ease in reading for yourself unless you practiced the skill liberally, and with a broad variety of reading materials. The same applies to children, only more so - because they haven't yet developed that skill fully in the first place.

It is a privilege for a child to be read to. And it is a privilege to be able to read to our children. But it's a real blessing to reach that day when you can know the privilege of reading aloud to a child... and then, handing the book to him to relieve you for a page or two, find that he can read it as well as you do - or better. <g> That's what we're after - and that's why Charlotte Mason insisted that children read their lesson books for themselves. But that is not to say that she would scorn our hallowed family read aloud times!

Personally, I would not fall over dead to learn that Charlotte Mason enjoyed a good read aloud session herself. In fact, I bet she's in Heaven right now reading the Waverly novels aloud to anyone who will listen. <VBG>

Lynn Bruce




This seems to be a much misunderstood subject by many seeking a Charlotte Mason education. Some have the mistaken notion that to use Charlotte Mason, they must read everything aloud to their students while others think Charlotte Mason would never have them read to their children once they can read for themselves. I don't have time to search out the specific references but I do remember Charlotte Mason mentioning "family reading time". I think the principle here is that the children learn to use books for themselves. We don't want them handicapped by making them dependent on us in order for them to learn because they won't always have us near to do the reading for them. However, enjoying books together (say, in the evening) is not a hindrance to the principle.

In our family of 7 children it would be impossible for me to read everyone's school books to them unless I read to everyone at once and used books that were beneath some or way above others. I think it is important that each child's books are challenging but not frustrating. So for school each reading child has their own books that they read to themselves, with the exception of Plutarch and Shakespeare which we do together. I read everything to my two boys who are not reading fluently yet. But like many of you, I like reading aloud to all of my children and they enjoy it too. So, in the evenings we always have a book or two going. Sometimes we read a book on everyone's interest level and other times my husband and I split up with him reading to the boys and me reading to the girls. Lately, I've been reading to the boys first, putting them to bed and then reading to the girls.

Many times we get too bogged down in specific instructions and recommendations instead of thinking about the principle behind the method. It is especially easy for those of us who are 'nuts and bolts' kind of people to just want a list to check off. If we strive to consider the principles behind what we are doing, we will more easily be able to make adjustments that meet the specific needs of our own families with confidence that we are still accomplishing our goals.

Lisa Ector




The issue here is not whether or not we ought to read aloud to our children, but the difference between what Charlotte Mason called 'desultory reading' and 'reading to know'. In Volume 6, A Philosophy of Education, we read: "Desultory reading is delightful and incidentally profitable, but it is not education whose concern is knowledge. That is, the mind of the desultory reader only rarely makes the act of appropriation which is necessary before the matter we read becomes personal knowledge. We must read in order to know, or we do not know by reading." (Vol. 6, p13)

Reading to know ought rightly be done by the child, as soon as they are able to do it. Training a child to be able to read to know well is an important part of a Charlotte Mason education, and reading their own books for themselves exercises and focuses their power of attention in a unique and important way.

Again from Volume 6, we read:" The mind concerns itself only with thoughts, imaginations, reasoned arguments; it declines to assimilate the facts unless in combination with its proper pabulum; it, being active, is wearied in the passive attitude of a listener, it is as much bored in the case of a child by the discursive twaddle of the talking teacher as in that of a grown-up by conversational twaddle; it has a natural preference for literary form; given a more or less literary presentation, the curiosity of the mind is enormous and embraces a vast variety of subjects." (Vol 6, p 15)

Granted, Charlotte Mason is referring there to the 'lecture' technique used by many teachers in the classroom, but I think therein lies the danger in reading schoolbooks to our children long after they are able to read those books for themselves. Please note, I am referring to books we 'read to know', as opposed to what Charlotte Mason called 'desultory' reading, or books read for the pleasure of reading them. There is a major distinction between those types of books, and the type of reading proper to them.

Reading aloud to our children is extremely important, but it should never take the place of their learning to read independently. We need to be careful that we are not giving them 'predigested pabulum' in lieu of real meat: allowing them to read, savor and make their own connections.

They may well learn much from "our inflection and personal perspective of the story that they wouldn't otherwise learn from reading alone", but is that learning theirs, or ours?

Once a child can read fluently, it is our job to teach them to read well, and to get out of their way, and let them 'get at' their 'lovely, glorious books' themselves, with no interference on our part. That doesn't mean no discussion, but it does mean that they come to those books without our ideas in their heads to distract them from what is there for them, from what the Holy Spirit may have for them...what a shame, if distracted by my inflection and my emphasis, my son misses the important points that lay waiting for him in Treasure Island.

Given Charlotte Mason's dislike of predigestion, and distrust of Herbartianism, (see Lynn Bruce's brilliant study of this on the cmason list) I doubt that she'd have changed her mind on this, no matter how many studies she read.

The family bond is strengthened by family read-alouds - and Charlotte Mason never says that reading aloud for pleasure should ever stop. That misconception comes, I believe, from a lack of understanding regarding the different purposes of reading for pleasure and reading to know.

Don't stop reading aloud to your family out of some misguided notion that Charlotte Mason would have disapproved, because she would not have. But take care that you are not doing for your child what they properly must do for themselves.

Amy in Missouri




I have little to improve upon what others have had to say on this topic. I do have an observation or two that are more along the way of observation of an interesting trend, and later in this post I add some of our experiences on how reading the same books separately also create a delicious bond. In response to this:

"and while I love most of Charlotte Mason's ideas I must differ with her on this one-my goal is not to send my children off to read every book on their own."

I would say that this wasn't Charlotte Mason's goal either. She thought families should continue to read aloud together. The fact that she also thought it was important for students to read books for themselves in no way implies that we can't also read some books aloud.

Up to a year or so ago, a terrible misconception was going around regarding Charlotte Mason- and that was the idea that in order to have a truly 'Charlotte Mason education' one must read aloud all the books. We with AO worked hard to correct that misinformation- because it was simply false, and because some mothers were getting burned out, some weren't even trying Charlotte Mason because that idea didn't appeal to them, and then there were mothers like I well remember- a sweet mother whose children were hearing impaired, and she despaired over being able to give them a Charlotte Mason education because they couldn't hear read alouds. I have a child with some auditory processing problems, and she does not learn much through the inflection of my voice, or my pronunciation. Listening to read alouds is a struggle for her, and it is for others.

However, in correcting this misunderstanding, and relieving many mothers of an unnecessary burden, the pendulum now seems to have swung the other way, as people seem to be assuming that since Charlotte Mason says children should read their school books for themselves as soon as they are able that means she condemns ever reading books aloud.

Nowhere does Charlotte Mason forbid the reading of books aloud. Anybody who continues to do all the reading aloud for her child long after a child is able to read for himself is not doing that child any favors- but as long as a child who can is doing much of the reading on his own (I refer to reading of school books here), there is nothing at all inherently un-Cm about reading other books aloud together. In fact, she strongly encouraged families to read aloud together in the evenings and over vacations, and in one of her books reminisces fondly about her own childhood read-aloud sessions.

Her teachers continued to read some books aloud in school- sometimes because a book had unsuitable portions, and sometimes for cost considerations (it might be better to have one copy of an expensive book than to have 20 families buy twenty copies)- if you have two or more reading the same book it certainly makes far more sense to read that book aloud together.

I wonder where the pendulum will go next? <g>

I also have this observation about the bond created by reading the same books:

Reading aloud is a lovely thing to do together. It does create a bond. But I have found that there is also a lovely bond developed by reading the same books separately, even if the same books are read twenty years apart. Discussion still occurs, shared experiences still exist - and there's the added fun of asking 'Are you at the part where....?" "What did you think when you got to the bit where she says...?" "Don't you wonder what would have happened if he'd known...?"

And one of the most tender moments in parenting is when you come upon a sobbing child and sympathetically gather her in your arms and murmur "I cried when Beth died, too."

There's something special about being able to show you remember being a child, and sharing that experience through the books your children read is very, very precious.

So by all means, keep reading some books aloud. But keep in mind that sharing the same books through reading them aloud is not the only way to develop a shared bond through books.=)

Wendi




One of the reading lessons I learned with my older son was that while he may be able to read a book such as Pilgrims Progress independently (after buddy reading it with me for nearly a year) was that he couldn't narrate it as well as when I read with him. The interesting thing was that he noticed it as well.

A couple of the new books Baldwin, Burgess and even eventually Marshall are intended to be more accessible for readers at the point of fluency and can be used as readers, but I would buddy read for a good long time. Also, I wouldn't send my year 1 or 2 child off to read them independently until they had demonstrated a good deal of proficiency reading and narrating them.

When the PUO first began, I had a 6yo reading at the point of fluency and I still chose to read most of his books to him because I was concerned more that he enjoy the material and not have any reason to be discouraged by requiring him to work too hard, narrating and reading. He was a good reader but his strength was weak for required work and was easily discouraged. I had him read to me once daily from the D'Aulaire books and books of comparable quality and toward the end of the year I required narration from his readings. In year 2, I had him reading at least twice during our lessons with narration but both times I was involved to a greater or lesser degree with the reading. Once a day he read a complete selection (mine are short 5-10 minutes) to me; this was generally the easier book. And once a day we buddy read together alternating sentences. We generally used a more difficult book for buddy reading and I often carried the burden of the reading. Now in the 3rd term of year 3, he is doing most of his own reading, but we still have a daily reading session where we buddy read which I intend to continue as more and more difficult material is introduced yearly. Now, he also has an independent readings as well as buddy readings in these more difficult books with narration required. This child is an excellent reader and has been for years, but for his school readings we have progressed very slowly because I didn't want to force the readings and encourage a resistant spirit or hamper comprehension.

I did give him independent reading from the additional reading books with LARGE print books and LARGE printed etexts in year 1 and 2, and I did not require narration. This was also time I needed to keep him busy, while I taught his younger brother and his older sister. When introduced him to a new book I generally primed the pump by reading him the first chapter in the book, but if he wasn't interested in the book then we found another book on the list. In year 2, I wan't quite so easy going I has some books that were required independent reading but with no narration. He read most of the books on the Additional Reading Lists in this fashion. While he probably didn't get as much as he could out of these books the first time through they did hold his interest, and he worked to improve his reading simply to improve help his own understanding. He has also reread most these books because I have the books at home readily available.

About a year after I started my older sons in year 1, I started my second son, a non-reader, in year 1. We spent the year working on his reading skills slowly and I read his school books aloud to him. I also used some tapes for a few of the additional reading books. At the beginning of year 2, he was still not ready to read in any of our books year 2 books. I ended up using Winter's Aesop (stories he already knew and enjoyed) with him daily for his reading practice with some other library books (Dr Seuss) and readers alternated for variety. We also had separate phonics lessons and drills. We worked very slowly through the stories and other books, taking multiple days for each story and weeks for the books. When he reached to point of being able to read most of the words fluently (near the end of term 1), I started buddy reading with him in some of his school books and helping him with difficult words (Marshall, Hillyer, Holling, D'Aulaire, Matchlock Gun, Sarah Noble). We do this once a day and I still read straight to him for the other readings. I plan on gradually giving him more reading responsibility in the same fashion as I did with my older son.

Leslie S.




Charlotte Mason wanted students to get into doing a lot of their own reading as soon as practical. Even the fiction does not have to all be read aloud. One AO user (Lisa-see the suggested schedules on the website) has 6 schoolage children and the older four all do almost all of their own reading except for certain subjects like Shakespeare stories that they read as a group. In our family, I have a daughters who are 10, almost 5 and 15 months; in other words, up to this point I've been schooling mainly one child all the way along, and my dd enjoys the interaction of being read to (or alternating with me), probably more than CM might have advised. For her, it would not work well to be sent off to read a long chapter by herself. However, that is not to say that it can't work; for instance, you can set up the child with the lesson-introduce it, and then give her ten minutes to "read and see if you can find out what three things so and so discovered"-thereby giving you a narration topic as well. (That approach comes directly from an old Parents' Review article about teaching an older and a younger child together-you start an older one off and then spend that 10 minutes adding beans or whatever with the younger one. It's very similar to what we're doing this year.) Also, I've found as my oldest dd matures, she is more capable and willing to make some of the reading her own-last year, Year 4, she tended to stall on some of the books, couldn't get past the first few pages of Robinson Crusoe; but this year (we're in our second week of school), she's doing some of the history alone and also reading Hans Brinker and a retelling of The Iliad on her own after lunch each day.

So you have to do what's best for you and your student. Don't feel you have to do all the reading out loud or to force her to read material she doesn't comprehend even if she understands the words.

Anne W.




This seems to be a much misunderstood subject by many seeking a CM education. Some have the mistaken notion that to use CM, they must read everything aloud to their students while others (as mentioned here) think CM would never have them read to their children once they can read for themselves. I don't have time to search out the specific references but I do remember CM mentioning "family reading time". I think the principle here is that the children learn to use books for themselves. We don't want them handicapped by making them dependent on us in order for them to learn because they won't always have us near to do the reading for them. However, enjoying books together (say, in the evening) is not a hindrance to the principle.

In our family of 7 children it would be impossible for me to read everyone's school books to them unless I read to everyone at once and used books that were beneath some or way above others. I think it is important that each child's books are challenging but not frustrating. So for school each reading child has their own books that they read to themselves, with the exception of Plutarch and Shakespeare which we do together. I read everything to my two boys who are not reading fluently yet. But like many of you, I like reading aloud to all of my children and they enjoy it too. So, in the evenings we always have a book or two going. Sometimes we read a book on everyone's interest level and other times my husband and I split up with him reading to the boys and me reading to the girls. Lately, I've been reading to the boys first, putting them to bed and then reading to the girls.

Many times we get too bogged down in specific instructions and recommendations instead of thinking about the principle behind the method. It is especially easy for those of us who are 'nuts and bolts' kind of people to just want a list to check off. If we strive to consider the principles behind what we are doing, we will more easily be able to make adjustments that meet the specific needs of our own families with confidence that we are still accomplishing our goals.

Lisa Ector