The Importance of Reading Aloud to our Children
I, of course, have been preaching on this for 20 years. That if what you want is a person who is good at speaking and writing, the single most important thing to do every day is read out loud to them in huge quantity, all through childhood.
Yvette Hampton recently had the opportunity to talk with Andrew Pudewa, for the Schoolhouse Rocked Podcast, about the importance of reading aloud to our children. They also discussed the ideas of mastery of subject matter and maximizing our homeschooling time by teaching integrating multiple subjects. Andrew Pudewa is the founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). He is a popular speaker and author, who has been talking to homeschool families around the world for 30 years. We were privileged to have been able to interview him for Schoolhouse Rocked and have been blessed by the support of IEW as a gold sponsor of the film.
Yvette Hampton: As we’ve filmed for Schoolhouse Rocked and talked to so many people, including you about education and the educational system. One of the conclusions that I have come to is we seem to think that all of our kids need to master every single subject – straight A’s. That’s the thing. Every kid must get straight A’s.
Even colleges want these kids to get straight A’s. And you have talked about, basically, doing what the public school system does is they learn to the test. I mean they basically learn so they can pass the test so they can move on with their life. Whether it’s something that they’re interested in or not. And as I’ve looked at my own kids and I’ve looked at other kids and interviewed so many people, I’ve realized God has not created all of us with a bend to master every single subject.
You talked about science, your passion is music, I know, and English and language arts. It’s not science. And so why do we pressure these kids to have to ace every single thing? And I’m not saying that they don’t need to learn the basics of science and the basics of history and the basics of all these … writing and all these different things. But not every one of us is created to be a historian and a scientist and a writer and all these different things.
And I just feel like we pressure our kids so much to become something that God did not intend for them to be. And we’ve often told our kids, and I’ve said this on the podcast before, “You have to learn to read well so that you can read God’s word. And you have to learn to write well so that you can write about him. And you have to learn the basics of science so that you can understand the universe and the world that God created. And you have to learn the basics of history so that you can understand the history of God’s world.”
But I don’t feel that it’s necessary for them to master every single one of these subjects in order for them to have succeeded in school. What is your opinion of that as you’ve talked to parents and educators?
Andrew Pudewa: Well, it’s always a balance between … There’s kind of your core knowledge, I think. There’s cultural literacy, there are things that everyone … To be an American citizen, a literate American citizen, things you should know. And so we do try to cover that. And I think when E.D. Hirsch wrote Cultural Literacy, and then that came into the Core Knowledge Foundation and that came into the What Every Third Grader Needs to Know series of books.
Now, that was very helpful in reminding us that pretty much, we’re either natives or immigrants by birth. But what binds us together is this shared cultural literacy, knowledge of Western civilization, familiarity with some good and great books and all that. So there is that, but then there’s also the question of how much chemistry do you need to have some literacy?
The funny thing is, I think all of us who went to high school, if you said, “Well, okay, you spend a year in biology or chemistry or whatever, of that book, of everything you studied over that year, what percentage of it did you remember or still know one year after that class was over?” Well, I mean most people are saying like five percent, if you’re a genius. Two percent if you’re normal.
Yvette: Unless you are really interested in that and want to be a chemist.
Andrew: Right. And then you go and you study it more. That reactivates that. So how much do we need of a subject to say, “Yes, I’m familiar with that in a way that makes me able to get the jokes and understand and read.” I think a lot of it is we teach a whole lot of that stuff in high school so that people will retain a little bit into adulthood. Maybe that’s not the most efficient way to do it, however. Maybe there’s a way to say, “Well, maybe we could do less, and then less is more.”
One thing I’ve noticed about my kids, and we were talking about this a little bit, you and I before, is that so much of what they remember and took into adulthood wasn’t in the textbooks. It was in the storybooks. It was in historical fiction novels. It was in the books that involve various elements of science and government and literature and things. Literature, well, that is books.
I’m thinking, for example, of Swiss Family Robinson. That is an adventure story, but it’s also practically a primary natural history of Oceania and New Guinea. I mean there’s so much stuff about animals and geography in there. So the author of that, he understood to catch the imagination of kids, you tell them a good story. And while they’re listening, teach them stuff.
That’s what I think parents who discover that they can often find their kids learn so much more and remember it. See, that’s the trick. They carry it with them into the future, future years, from the read-alouds that they do at home. And choosing many good and great books that have historic illusions, geographical information, biographical information.
Like I said, sometimes natural sciences, government elements, they’re all often … A good book is a good book because people say, “Wow, I learned a lot from that. It was fun and I learned a lot.” That’s what made it good. How else would you define a good book? It was entertaining. But if you could have it’s just entertaining versus it was enjoyable and I learned a lot. Well, that’s kind of a no brainer. What would you choose?
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Yvette: Yeah. And that perfect. I love that answer. One of the questions that we actually got from one of our listeners was, she asked how can read-alouds cross subject barriers and maximize our homeschooling hours, science, literature, theology, history, ethics, all in one? And that perfectly encompasses that. I mean, you can read a good book and it can encompass all of those things at one time instead of breaking them out into different subjects.
Andrew: Yeah. And I, of course, have been preaching on this for 20 years. That if what you want is a person who is good at speaking and writing, the single most important thing to do every day is read out loud to them in huge quantity, all through childhood. Because that more than anything is formative. It’s forms the vocabulary base, it forms the database of syntax and grammar patterns. It builds a stock of literary devices, schemes and tropes of rhetoric, and it will build in general knowledge.
It’s funny, I’ll meet kids who seem to just know so much. It’s like you say something and then they say something and you’re like, “Wow, how did you even know that?” And then I’ll talk to their mom, go, “What do you do?” “Well, we don’t really have … We’re not all that organized. We just read a lot.”
Yvette: Yeah. I love it. And I’ve actually heard you speak several times about the importance of not reading, because I think a lot of people think, “Well, we read a lot to our young kids who don’t yet know how to read.” But you’re talking about reading aloud to our kids who are even in high school, to our teenagers.
Yvette: Talk a little bit about that, because I love this. And for those of you who have not heard your take on this, they need to hear it. Because this has literally changed our homeschooling, and I read to my girls all the time and they … Well, my eight year old is still becoming a strong reader, but my 12 year old, of course, can read. But she loves me reading to her and I love reading to her. And talk about that for a minute.
Andrew: Well, I think we do tend to kind of fall into the mistake of as soon as a kid can read on their own, it’s like, “Oh, great. You can read to yourself now. That’ll free me up to do Peng and The Beautiful Yangtze River here one more time with the four year old.” So we tend to favor the younger children. But my argument is that it’s when kids read on their own that they most need to be read to at a level above their own decoding skills.
They need to be read to the things they would not, or could not read on their own. Because if they just read what they can read, they’ll keep reading what they can read. That’s easy. But they won’t necessarily try to read something that has longer sentences or more obscure illusions or more complex vocabulary, because it’s harder. And so they’ll either skip stuff or they kind of say, “Well, I don’t like that.”
But if we read to them, if they get it auditorily, we not only don’t skip stuff, we read all the words, we read it in the right context with the right vocal nuances that help improve comprehension. That’s actually how you improve reading comprehension, is not by throwing books at kids and saying, “Here, read this and take a test to see if you understood it.” We create reading comprehension by reading out loud to them at above their own … at a level above their own reading level, and talking about that. That’s what creates the understanding of the vocabulary and the idioms and the more complex ideas.
So, a lot of kids in school, they read, read, read, read, read, read, read, but they kind of do lateral shifts. And then as adults, they don’t want to read a great book like Jane Eyre or Ben-Hur or something. It’s too hard. So if we want our kids to enjoy reading harder stuff, the absolute best way is to bring them into that world by starting reading it to them and talking about it, defining it, understanding it.
Yvette: Yeah. I want to actually encourage any moms or dads who are listening to this who might be intimidated by that. Because I’ll tell you, I did not … I know how to read, obviously, and obviously when I graduated high school, I knew how to read. But I was not a strong reader. I didn’t not grow up reading books. My parents never really read to me. I remember them reading Cinderella and Green Eggs and Ham. Those are the only two books I ever remember my parents reading to me over and over again.
And so when I got out of high school, I was not a super strong reader and I hated to read aloud. I was the kid that whenever the teacher was … we were reading Romeo and Juliet or whatever it was we were reading. And they would say, “Okay, so-and-so is going to read next.” And I mean, I would start … My palms would start sweating and I would start getting all shaky and nervous because I hated to stand in front of my class and read.
And right after I got married, I was 20 when Garritt and I got married. My very first job was … I was a preschool teacher and I remember sitting down and they were like, “Okay, go read to this group of four-year-olds.” And I mean, I was reading again, obviously, preschool books. They were Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat, things like that. And I was terrified to read in front of these kids, not because I didn’t know how to read the books, but there was just something about it. There was something about standing in front of these little kids or sitting in front of them and reading out loud to them. Because I felt like I was going to fumble on the words and it was just terrifying to me.
And of course, over the years, I’ve become a much stronger reader. And now I read to my girls all the time. And so I want to give that encouragement to moms who, and dads, who maybe are just intimidated by the idea of reading aloud to their kids. Even if you have teenagers, just do it. I mean, the more you do it, of course, the better you get at it. I love to read now. I love to read aloud, but I also love to just read on my own. And it just opens up a whole new world of learning, not just for your kids, but for yourself.
But it can be scary, because we’re not all excellent readers and not everybody grew up knowing or learning how to read aloud in a really effective way. So anyway, I love it now. It took years for me to learn how to love reading a lot, but I love it-
Andrew: Are you familiar with Sarah Mackenzie’s Read-Aloud Revival?
Yvette: Oh, of course. Yeah. She’s one of our cast members on Schoolhouse Rocked. Absolutely. We’ve talked with her.
Andrew: We should get your listeners connected up with her if they are not already, because she’s so encouraging, particularly in that area of read aloud. I would also love to mention that a lot of what I’ve been teaching and speaking about for the past many years, I’ve written articles. And those articles are now all collected into one book, and it’s available. And did I give you a copy?
Yvette: You did. Yeah, I’ve got it.
Andrew: Okay. My book, However Imperfectly, Lessons From 30 Years of Teaching. So that’s available at our website, along with all of our product stuff, IEW.com. And you can also, of course, call us or text us or email us if you have any questions about teaching writing to your children or spelling or literature or early reading. We’ve got materials for all of that.
Yvette: Yeah. We’ll link back to all those things for sure. Let me ask you one more quick question, and I know Sarah Mackenzie, Read-Aloud Revival is her podcast. I’m sure many of our listeners have heard it. She has an excellent podcast, and I think you’ve been on her podcast a few times now, right?
Andrew: Well, Yvette, when I get envious of her big numbers, I just remember, I was her first.
Yvette: I know, I remember. I remember. It’s an excellent interview too. She’s so encouraging when she talks about the importance of read-alouds. And so one of the things that she has is a book list and she has an excellent book list. I love the way it’s categorized. It’s by age and it’s just a great book list. But do you also, is there an IEW book list somewhere or what do you use? When parents ask you, “Okay, I want to read aloud to my kids. How do I find great literature to read to them?” Where do you direct them?
Andrew: Yeah. Well, we have three. One is a free list, you can just get it off the downloads tab off our website, IEW.com. It’s called Books for Boys and Other Kids Who Would Rather be Making Forrts All Day. And it is divided just into elementary, middle and high school reading levels. We also have, we sell a book by Adam Andrews whose website is centerforlit.com. His course is called Teaching the Classics, and he has a book called Reading Roadmaps, I believe.
The one we published, which is the most extensive book list I’ve ever seen is called Timeline of Classics by a homeschool mom, Gail Ledbetter, and it can be got in ebook form or you can get a paper spiral bound from our website. And it’s got well over a thousand books listed. And they’re organized in time periods. So they were either written about or written in that time period. It goes from ancient all the way up to modern, tells the author and gives the approximate reading level. And that’s a resource that people probably use for their whole life.
Yvette: Yeah. Okay. That’s great. I’ll link back to all those. And then I know one that I’ve really enjoyed is Hunting for a Child’s Heart. That one has some great book recommendations and little blurbs on each book, which is awesome. So we will link back to all those things. But I feel like we could talk forever and ever. So we will definitely love to have you back on the podcast again at another time. And we can talk about more things homeschooling and how to encourage and equip parents who are on this journey of home educating their kids. But thank you so, so much, Andrew, for your time today. I know you are a busy man, so we appreciate you taking the time to talk.
You can find Andrew Pudewa and IEW online at IEW.com.
Andrew Pudewa recommends the following resources in his interview.
Homeschool Legal Defense Association: HSLDA
IEW Recommended Book List (Books for Boys & Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day)
Read Aloud Revival with Schoolhouse Rocked cast member, Sarah Mackenzie.
However Imperfectly by Andrew Pudewa
IEW Book List: Timeline of Classics
Center for Lit: Reading Roadmaps
Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt
Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch Jr.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
Photos of the Bates family reading, by Yvette Hampton. ©2019, Bronze Oxen Films LLC. All Rights Reserved