[L]et an hour’s reading aloud be a part of the winter evening at home — on one or two evenings a week, at any rate — and everybody will look forward to it as a hungry boy looks for his dinner.
— Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character
I hates it,” says your child, sounding remarkably like Gollum. Or maybe he doesn’t say it, but you’re pretty sure he’s thinking it. Either way, it’s a frustrating situation. This can happen with a book assigned in the curriculum you’re using, yes. But if you’re as lucky as me, at least one of your children, upon hitting puberty, will swear off an entire subject area, and woe to those who try to change her mind.
Now, it’s not that I indulge temper tantrums, whether performed by toddlers or teens, but still: there are times when an indirect approach is strategically advantageous.
When he-who-shall-remain-nameless perused the school books one summer and pointed to one title and announced, “I’ll never read that book,” I mentally filed this information away. I also took note of a certain young lady’s dislike of all things history. I fought both of these out on the most unlikely of battlefields: the family read aloud stack.
When Books Become Weapons
I want to briefly clarify that our children — no matter how frustrating they might be at times — are not the enemy. When I say a well-chosen book can be a weapon, I don’t mean a weapon we use on or against our children. We are on our child’s team, remember?
In this case, we stand side by side with our children when our children aren’t feeling much like fellow soldiers. This is when we step up and defend them from that dreadful enemy, Lack of Proper Affection, by which they are being assaulted.
While not all titles should be chosen as an act of warfare, a wise mother must know her weapons in order to use them well when the time comes. If your family already has a robust read aloud culture, even better. The joys of the past will sustain you in this dark hour. 😉
Charlotte Mason once wrote:
There is little opportunity to give intellectual culture to the boy taken up with his school and its interests; the more reason, therefore, to make the most of that little; for when the boy leaves school, he is in a measure set; his thoughts will not readily run in new channels. The business of the parent is to keep open right-of-way to the pleasant places provided for the jaded brain. Few things help more in this than a family habit of reading aloud. Even a dry book is readable when everybody listens, while a work of power and interest becomes delightful when eye meets eye at the telling bits. (Vol. 5, pp. 519-520)
Keep Open the Way
Miss Mason’s thoughts here agree with my real-life experience. I must have read this paragraph when I first read volume five eight years ago, but when I ran across this quote recently, I was shocked. I had completely forgotten it! (This seems to be another case in which I took her advice without realizing it.)
Girls become consumed with their interests and their school work and their jobs as well as boys. There are many distractions these days. Some are good, some are bad, but all families have them. (Can I get an amen?)
It’s tempting to feel powerless, but those days haven’t actually arrived yet. These children still live in our homes and, especially if reading aloud is a set habit, we can leverage it to our benefit.
Is Teen J missing out on a certain subject? Find an interesting book on it and put it into read aloud time. You just know Teen M going to hate reading that book next year? Read it aloud instead.
The read aloud stack can be many things: what you want to read and what you think they’ll like, yes. But also, it’s what you think they need. As long as you’re choosing good books, it’s likely it’ll work out okay.
Here’s how it’s happened here on many occasions. I introduce a new book. “We’re going to be reading Book X, which is on Subject Y.” At this point, at least one child groans. I ignore said child and proceed to read the first chapter (or half a chapter if they’re long). Everyone except the grumpy person likes it fine.
Next day, I pick up the Book X at the designated time. Grumpy Person groans again. I still ignore this child, and we read chapter two. Everyone except the grumpy person now likes the book enough to look forward to the next reading.
It’s usually at reading three that Grumpy Person begins to change her tune. She doesn’t groan this time, and things improve from there. On many occasions, by the time we were near the end, Grumpy Person likes the book enough that she’s forgotten she didn’t approve of it at first.
(Please note: Grumpy Person is not always a female at my house. This is just an example.)
Let’s review part of Miss Mason’s quote again:
The business of the parent is to keep open right-of-way to the pleasant places provided for the jaded brain. Few things help more in this than a family habit of reading aloud.
Over and over again, this has been proven true to me. Reading aloud has a hidden power to provide gentle, nonconfrontational correction to the mind. In a word, it has the power to develop taste.
Oh, they think they don’t like Subject Y just like they used to think they didn’t like broccoli. But a mother’s subtlety and cunning can often win out, hm? And just like you eventually wooed Junior to broccoli by discovering his favorite was dipping it in ranch dressing, reading aloud just might be the secret sauce you’ve been searching for.
Reading aloud. It’s a weapon of our motherhood warfare, helping us fight for our children’s hearts and minds. Simple and unassuming, yes. But, my, the power!
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