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Hidden Art of Homemaking: Reading Aloud

The tenth chapter of Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer is titled “Drama,” and I admit I was concerned. I rather share Fanny Price’s skepticism about amateur drama beyond the Shakespeare speech or poem recitation. Turns out, my trepidation was needless, because that was particularly the sort of dramatic expression Mrs. Schaeffer is encouraging, with the addition insight that reading aloud is actually an outlet for dramatic talent!

reading aloud at bedtime

Personally, I have zero flair for the dramatic, and that even extends to reading aloud. I can’t do accents at all, and I can’t keep voices consistent through even a picture book. Thankfully, my husband does have a flair for dramatic reading, and so he does the evening family read alouds.

Edith hints in the chapter to the key to reading aloud well: your eyes read ahead of where you are reading aloud. I learned about this ability after an apology by my husband for laughing so hard at the next sentence of the book that he couldn’t read the current sentence. I blinked with astonishment. Reading the next sentence in your head while speaking the previous sentence? How can you even do that? I can’t, and that’s why I can’t read aloud well and why I don’t particularly enjoy it.

Yes, it is probably a talent, like all the others, that could be trained. But remember what Edith said about time and inclination? Yes, the read-aloud is a basis for family culture, but I feel we are covered adequately without it having to be my responsibility or duty. My husband does the long readings and we use a lot of audio books. And so we all enjoy the talents of others’ dramatic ability.

circle time reading

Though my own reading aloud ability is one I’m not inclined to cultivate at this time (though exposure and necessary practice has made it better than it was), it is a valid dramatic outlet for our children, as well. In fact, having been exposed to good readings, my readers have been inspired to play around with voices when reading aloud to their siblings or when reciting poetry during circle time.

Once I overheard a teen reading a picture book aloud to a child, and I winced. It was clear she read just fine to herself, but had zero practice reading aloud. Skill in reading quietly to oneself (where one skips and skims and goes back and looks ahead, all without realizing it) does not translate at all to skill in reading aloud to someone else. They are different types of readings. And, I resolved upon hearing that reading, that I would intentionally include both kinds of reading practice into our educative efforts.

Here are the practices I have found to be most helpful in encouraging the ability to dramatically read and speak:

reading frog and toad

  • Obviously, I have them read aloud. Sometimes I have my fluent readers read aloud a school lesson from the teacher book. I have them read me recipes as I cook. I ask them to read picture books to their younger siblings.
  • Circle time memory recitation has helped. We all practice reading aloud the same thing over and over daily, and so we get better at reading the selections. Imagine that.
  • Exposure to dramatic reading has given them inspiration (which they wouldn’t have if I was determined to do all the reading aloud myself). Because their dad does voices while reading, they know it’s cool to do so and feel it’s something they can do. Because they listen to actors read stories aloud, they have many models to imitate.
  • Patience, tolerance, and even removing myself from within earshot helps immensely, too, when they are practicing their voice skills. Because, honestly, my nerves can’t take too much of what they think is a funny way to read a story. My intellectual head says it’s good practice, but my physical head starts aching with too much of it. So, they occupy the younger ones with their “hilarious” reading aloud, and I escape to my room for a few moments of peace – otherwise known as folding laundry. It’s a win-win, really.

Here are a couple short videos I’ve taken of circle time reading-recitation (sorry they are sideways):

Listening to them engage their personalities in the readings makes me smile and feel this whole homeschooling thing is worth the effort, energy, and exhaustion. Not only because this sort of thing would never happen in any other school setting, but also because I get to witness it as it happens.

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  1. You know, you are SO right about the need to practice to acquire the skill of reading aloud well. I’ve practiced a lot, and I enjoy it, but I haven’t made the effort to MAKE my daughter read aloud, pace her voice, slow down and enjoy it. We’ll work on this this year!

    About reading ahead — it IS a skill that’s learned. I learned it when I was taught to type. To type fast, you must read a few words ahead of where you are typing. Thus, the words your eyes see and the words your fingers are typing are not the same. It’s also true in piano playing. If you can read one or two measures ahead of where you’re playing, you play without hesitation and with more fluidity. It takes time, but it’s a skill worth having.

    1. Hm. I type fast when I write, but I don’t transcribe quickly, and I don’t play the piano. My husband does both well and has since his childhood. That’s an interesting connection!

  2. Mystie, this is a great post. Love the points you listed to include/improve reading out loud so that is interesting and entertaining.
    Sounds like your husband has the talent, what a blessing. Your example of the teen reading? I’ve heard this too. I wonder if it is because it seems to be common to discontinue the read alouds once the child can read for themselves?
    My computer connection is slow today, but I look forward to peeking in on your children reading later this weeknd. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Zero flair for the dramatic? Give me a second to ponder what that would be like, lol. ;) Andy definitely struggles more with reading aloud to the kids than I do, but he’s pretty set on getting better at it. It’s quite possible that I go a leeeetle over the top and thus intimidate him. :)

    1. Yeah, have you read Mansfield Park? I am most like Fanny Price: totally boring, party-killer, over-thinker, awkward. :) Austen’s least likable heroine, they say. :)

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