5 Tips That Took Our Read-Aloud Times from Disaster to Delight

a smiling girl lies on a couch with a book on her head

I admit it. I was disappointed. Read-aloud time didn’t look like I expected it to. 

My vision: Quiet children, hanging on my every word while sipping hot cups of cocoa and wholly engaged in the story.

Instead, our read-aloud time was filled with interruptions and fights over who was sitting where and whose blankets were touching. Children poked siblings, hung upside down on furniture, or climbed shelves for no good reason. Finally, I’d end the chapter in a huff, and we’d all go our separate ways. 

I was so frustrated that I took a brief break from read-aloud time and whole-family learning! But during that hiatus, I realized my kids experienced our read-aloud moments much differently than I did. I remembered frustration and interruptions. But they remembered moments of sharing a story together.

So before you throw your hands up in despair and say that read-aloud time just isn’t for your family, consider these five lessons which helped me make peace with read-aloud time and transform it into a delightful part of our homeschool.

1. Keep Reading Sessions Short

My kids may beg me to keep going, but it really is better to stop reading aloud while they are still engaged rather than push them to the limits of their attention. It doesn’t matter what our lesson plan says; I pace our story by my kids’ attention spans. Shorter reading sessions are easier to fit into our schedule and train my children to actually pay attention. There are occasions where we camp in the living room for a long read-aloud, but these are few and far between. Most of our whole-family learning moments are short and sweet.

2. Bribe (and Quiet) Them with Food

Particularly if I’m making an exception and going a little longer with our time together, I try to involve food in our read-aloud times. Special food puts everyone in a good mood, and even if our reading time is functionally a disaster, everyone has positive memories of “that time when we had scones and read that book.”

Also, food keeps my kids’ mouths busy—which means they aren’t talking. I have very extroverted children with ADHD brains. They blurt out thousands of ideas a minute and have trouble regulating their steady stream of thought. If their mouths are full of delicious snack, they are less likely to interrupt. It still happens, but not quite as often.

3. Make Reading Memorable

Memories are made in two ways. 

  1. Some memories are made of tradition: we always do something a particular way. Maybe we always read in a particular place, or we always had a particular snack as we read a certain book.
  2. Other memories are made by novelty—something completely out of the ordinary. It might be a snack we’ve never had, an activity we’ve never done, or a location we’ve never been. Maybe we read on the trampoline outside or under the dining room table. Maybe they act out a particularly fascinating scene from history or try cooking a recipe we’ve just read about. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and often my kids provide these ideas. I just have to say yes.

4. Keep Them Busy During Read-Alouds

5 Tips That Took Our Read-Aloud Times from Disaster to DelightI honestly cannot expect my kids to sit and only listen. They are movers and fidgeters. When I accept their tendency instead of trying to change it, we are all happier. Sticker books, puzzles, drawing activities, clay/slime/playdough, building blocks, and fidget toys keep everyone’s hands to themselves and everyone’s minds able to focus on the reading. When the weather allows, I’ll read outside while they jump on the trampoline or dribble a soccer ball. It doesn’t always make sense to me, but I know they actually listen better when it doesn’t look like they are listening.

5. Embrace the Chaos of Whole-Family Learning

To me, the interruptions and fights and chaos seem like failure. I can’t concentrate, so how can they?

But somehow, what I remember is not the same as what they remember. The chaos is part of their daily lives, and so in one sense, it’s just background noise to them. They don’t see the bedlam or notice the interruptions. They move through it, around it, and past it.

If I can set aside my expectations of what I want our homeschool read-alouds to look like and instead embrace what they actually do look like, whole-family learning becomes a beautiful moment.

The silent pictures of our Instagram feed don’t really do it justice. My kids may look like they are peacefully gathered around an art project, listening intently to our story. But the reality is I never make it through an entire page of reading without some kind of interruption. Even our audiobooks have to be paused over and over again. But if that’s not what they remember about our homeschool day, then I’ve decided not to make it a focal point of mine.

Homeschooling kids with ADHD is a wild, boisterous ride, but honestly that wild, boisterous spontaneity might be what I love most about our homeschool. 

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Tracy GlockleAbout the Author

Tracy Glockle lives with her husband in Oregon where she homeschools their crew of three kids with ADHD/dyslexia. She’s constantly making adjustments for her out-of-the-box learners, finding creative ways to use their strengths to teach their weaknesses. As the frontal lobe for her family of ADHDers, Tracy loves planners and systems and organization. But housecleaning—that’s something else entirely. She enjoys black coffee, superhero action films, and reading the end of a story first. Tracy writes about homeschooling ADHD and dyslexia for several blogs including her own at Growing In Grace.