For years, read-aloud time was the beating heart of our homeschool. From the time my kids were toddlers, they’d tolerate academics because they knew that once they finished practicing homophones and math facts, we’d get to the good stuff — our “Cozy Up Reading Time,” during which they’d each grab a snack, I’d grab a stack of books, and we’d snuggle up on the couch to dive into adventure, mystery, and the travails of anthropomorphic animals. Kate DiCamillo refers to read-aloud time as “a patch of warmth and light” shared between kids and parents, and we came to treasure that golden glow. The half hour poring over stories allowed us to snuggle close and to let our minds wander toward distant, glittering shores.
Those moments also provided some of the richest opportunities to remember the one, true Story — His story — that undergirds everything good, and beautiful, and lovely. It was a reading of The Return of the King that helped my son overcome his doubts about God’s goodness. As we joined Robinson Crusoe on his deserted island, we could thoroughly appreciate God’s providence even in shipwrecks and stormy seas. Every day, for seven years, our read-aloud time served as a little oasis in our day, beckoning us to remember that our God is good, and that rather than abstract concepts, love and hope are tangible, robust, and inseparable from a man who burst into history, walked among us, and gave us the greatest story of all. Hope and love, books teach us, are real. Hope and love have a Name.
And then, this year, the unthinkable happened. The read-aloud time stopped.
The silence in our afternoons didn’t occur because the kids suddenly objected to reading aloud. Rather, it happened because as newly fluent readers, they couldn’t wait for the next read-aloud time to finish the story. With minds hungry for more explorations, for more pirates and winged horses and dragons breathing fire across crystal-etched seas, they whisked away the books from our stack and spent the crevices of days with their noses between the pages. When we piled into the car for climbing practice, they brought their books. After they’d finished their chores, they’d steal away to knock off another chapter. The next thing I knew, they were finishing 400-page novels without the staid fixtures of couch and crackers. They’d embarked on the adventures, survived the wyvern attacks, and lived to tell the tale. . . and yet we’d shared nary a cuddle, nary a handful of cheddar cheese Goldfish.
At first, I panicked. Would our days unravel? Was I letting the most vital part of our homeschool slip away? I felt betrayed, unmoored. No one told me that the hours of painstaking phonics lessons would lead to this!
And yet — wasn’t this exactly why we’d spent all the long days with letter magnets and phonemes? So they could unlock the power of reading for themselves? So they might revel in its joys? So they would hunger for words, for metaphors and similes, for sentences beautifully crafted, as ardently as they crave that stack of pancakes with extra syrup and a side of bacon on Saturday mornings?
Wasn’t the whole point to foster in them a thirst for wonder, and an intuition, vibrating deep in their hearts like a plucked guitar string, that worthy virtues exist in this world? That worthy virtues are worth fighting for, even dying for, because they spring from Him?
After a few days of wringing my hands, I realized that Our Cozy Up Reading Time, always a fixture, was actually just a vehicle. It was a means to the end, rather than the thing itself. It served to open my kids’ eyes to the beauty in the world around them, and their minds to the power of books to capture that beauty, to translate it, and to reshape it in a new, delicate light. And it served that purpose beautifully.
Once my pulse settled and I’d wiped the tears (there were only a few — really) from the corners of my eyes, I thanked the Lord for this shift in my kids’ minds and in our days. And then, I decided that if I couldn’t read to them, I would read with them. I put away the stack of oh-so-grown-up books on my nightstand and took up Harry Potter. Then, we moved on to The Outlaws of Time. Then the Prydain Chronicles.
Sometimes, I haven’t been able to keep pace. My kids are voracious readers, are still losing their teeth, and can climb a V3 boulder route in two minutes. I often pass out at night with a book on my face, have skunk-like bands of gray in my hair, and would have a myocardial infarction if I even sneezed at a climbing wall. Yet despite my inadequacy, the riches of books and the treasures of the imagination, continue to be things we can share together as a family, whether we crowd together on the sofa or not. Journeying with my kids through books into which they’ve dived at their own pace, and have processed in their own way, has unveiled lovely facets of their unique personalities. My daughter has surprised me with astute observations about character motivations that seem well beyond her years. I’ve had to suppress a smile when my son, gravely and with stalwart conviction, has stated his case for the real identity of the villain. Each book, each conversation has allowed us to delve into deeper conversations about character arcs, redemption, and the themes underlying every great story. Our conversations are more mature, more complex and nuanced. And yet, the magic is still there. The truth is still there. We just carry these narratives with us now, peppering our days, rather than delegating it to our living room. Our read-aloud time has gone mobile.
And it’s a delight.
So parents, weep not when your read-alouds fall silent. Or, at least, weep briefly. Then, blot away the tears, and rejoice that your kids have embarked into the world of literature with courageous hearts. Take heart with them, pick up, and read.