Ask anyone who has parented long enough to see their child's shoe size dwarf their own: things change as the years go by. It's true across the board. The favorite t-shirt you had to pry from your son's body to sprint into the wash someday finds its way to the bottom of the drawer from disuse. The darling, age-appropriate pronunciation of "spaghetti" disappears. The five-point harness gives way to a booster seat, which eventually finds its way to a corner in the garage ("just in case!") when your little girl is suddenly big enough for just a seat belt.
When your family homeschools, change takes on another, more quantifiable aspect. As each skill is mastered, it is carefully built upon until the math manipulatives are eventually sold second-hand and you no longer consider Miss Frizzle your back-up science tutor. Before you know it, the child who struggled to learn his times tables is calculating something about S-curves as you google furiously, trying to keep up. This is change, real-time. And it is good.
Sometimes, though, things have a way of slipping through our fingers and becoming part of the past when they still hold value. Reading aloud to teens is one of them.
We know the benefits of reading aloud to babies and toddlers and preschoolers. We are thrilled as they drag the worn compilation of Little Golden Books to our laps for one more telling. We know that they are painlessly picking up vocabulary, grasping the nuances of language, anticipating action, understanding social norms. We praise them for remembering their favorite tale, and help them point out the little black spider hiding behind the bush, or count the birds in the sky.
As we begin our homeschooling journey, we read differently. Yes, we are still praying for all the earlier bonuses of gathering for a reading. But now we realize a new weight as we plunge into each new story. We want them to learn. We want them to get a feel for a time period, or crawl inside the skin of a character who has lessons to teach through their experiences. But mostly, we want our children to fall in love with books. We want them to become readers in their own right, the kind of people who can spend hours wrapped in a good story and come away full, as if from a banquet. We want them to learn how to learn ... and that skill is so closely entwined with being a reader than when we find our natural places on the couch, splayed on the floor, or draped in the most comfortable chair, we are constantly alert to passing on our own love of books.
And yet, one day, we simply stop. Among Sonlighters I know, the transition usually occurs right before Core 100. It makes sense; this is the Big Change moment, the point when the countdown to the end of the homeschooling years really begins.
There are younger children in the family who won't enjoy those books. Life has gotten busier, and committing 2 hours a day to reading a book just isn't doable any more. He really prefers to do his schoolwork alone, in his room. We have several Cores going, and I can't manage to read from all of them.
I get it. Things change. The pace of life picks up as children creep ever closer to graduating. There are co-op classes, and science labs, and younger siblings still learning to find their way around fractions. But can I gently suggest that these are even more reasons to examine your schedule and find a way to read aloud to your teenagers?
In our house, it's far too easy to find a way to focus on the younger kids, or prioritize independence so much in our older learners that we forget that in reading to our teens, the game itself has changed. We are no longer reading to simply help them master new words, or to color in the details surrounding the Spanish Inquisition. It's not about building a relationship with books; it's about building a relationship with us.
When my children were all small, read aloud time was the highlight of the day. In some seasons, and with certain books, it was the bulk of the day. I can remember sitting on our loveseat with a cup of tea on my lap, my little ones on the floor building Lincoln Log cabins as we worked our way through Core E. I'm sure there were other things that happened that year, but in my mind, it was the reading that we shared that shines brightest of all. I'm blessed to be experiencing that season again with my younger children, but no, my teens honestly don't have time in their schedules to set Physics and French aside to bask in The Great Wheel again.
Still, I know the value of listening together, of sharing an adventure, of building a common family culture. No, my teens don't need me to read to them. Not for information or to fall in love with the written word. My teens need me to read to them to keep them knit into the "we" that is our family.
Because of the large range of ages and skills represented under our roof in this season, our family read aloud time looks much different than it did in those sweet days of Core E. Now we gather for lunch around the dining room table and fall quiet, everyone from the infant to the college girl, and embark on the journey amidst chewing and spilled cups of water. I no longer read only school books (unless they are particular favorite repeats of my older kids), trying to keep things fresh for everyone. Our sessions don't stretch over hours, because the teens usually have work calling them back. More often than not, I miss out on a hot meal. But I've decided that that eating cold leftovers is a small price to pay for being able to hold all of my children in one orbit for forty minutes.
Reading to my teens has paid more dividends than I can count. From being able to wink at a 5 year-old sister who is now in on the family jokes stolen from Cheaper By the Dozen to whispering to me as we wash dishes about the ludicrous example of personification presented in a rabbit gripping the hilt of a sword, I am delighted that some things have not changed. Some of my babies can rest their chins on the top of my head. Others are closing in on their third decade of life. But our family is still a family of readers. And I am still blessed to be the voice bringing the tales to life.
Heather Mills Schwarzen is the wife of one globe-trotting, church-planting adventurer, and Momma to 9 beautifully messy people who range from toddlers to late teens. She writes about parenting, homeschooling, adoption, special needs, and serving a very big God on the family's blog, To Sow a Seed. You can follow the entire family's adventure in a life of ministry on their Facebook page.