Today I’m answering all your questions about reading aloud with my boys, how to get started, and our favorite family friendly, age appropriate books for boys and girls!
This week on my instagram stories I’ve been talking a lot about reading aloud to my boys. I mentioned that we started Harry Potter for our bedtime book, and since all of it sparked a lot of questions, I asked you to submit some read aloud questions.
I’ve consolidated your questions into sixteen general questions and hopefully this answers any other questions you might have.
And at the bottom of the post, I’m sharing a big list of our favorite early reader books (books I read with Fos and are great for ages 2 and up), and another list of some great books and series to start with if you’re just beginning to read aloud to your children.
Do you read aloud to all three kids every night? And what if my kids don’t share a bedroom?
My kids are ages 8, 5 (almost 6), and 2, so I only do bedtime reading aloud to the two older boys. The big boys share a room and baby still has his own room, so we start as soon as the baby goes to bed and we read in their room.
My mom read to my siblings and I our entire lives at home, and most of that time we were spread throughout several rooms. We almost always congregated in her room, but sometimes we went to the one shared bedroom where there was a big bunk bed to climb into and listen.
Do whatever works best for your family, but I personally like to read in a bedroom so it feels cozy and gets my boys in the mood for bedtime.
Do you cater to the oldest kid’s level, or youngest, or somewhere in the middle?
I don’t really cater to a specific age – I just try to choose books that are appropriate (no mature themes, teach good values, no language, etc), and books that will keep their attention and help them develop a love of reading and books.
Your kids can listen to a book at a much reading level than they can read, so don’t feel like you have to read early reader books if you have an early reader.
There are so many benefits of reading books at a higher reading level; helping them expand their vocabulary, gaining comprehension skills, and understanding more complex sentences are just three of the huge benefits I’ve seen in my kids.
How do you get your children to sit still and listen? Did it take some time to build up their listening skills?
Learning to sit and listen to a book is a skill. It definitely is not inherent for most children.
My children learned to sit still and listen by listening to audiobooks. We started by listening to them in the car when they were strapped in and couldn’t go anywhere.
We started with books that were easy to listen to, without many characters, with a simple story line, and with a narrator who was easy to understand (no accents!!).
It took several months of listening to audiobooks in the car for them to learn to love it, and get good at listening and following the story. I always do little recaps as we listen — I’ll shut off the audio for a minute and explain something, or ask them a question, or do a brief summary, and that also helps a ton as they build their comprehension skills.
I also do these little recaps as a read at bedtime to them, mostly for Fos’s benefit.
Now they can listen to audiobooks with narrators who have accents, and with stories that are complex and have many characters, all on their own (even Fos, who is five). And they listen and understand at bedtime really well. But it takes TIME and PRACTICE!
I have a post all about our favorite audiobooks HERE!
Do you let them play with something while they listen?
At bedtime, NEVER. I have a hard, fast rule. It drives me crazy when I’m reading and I don’t feel like they’re listening.
But I know my kids — they have very big imaginations, and any kind of toy in their hand turns into a huge imaginary playground. I watch their eyes glaze over and they start having a little dialogue between LEGO minifigures, or they start drawing and get swallowed up in their imagination. I lose their attention immediately. Don’t get me wrong, I love their huge imaginations, but I want their attention on the story if I’m going to read.
We always read in their bedroom, and their room has all the LEGOs. They still sometimes ask if they can play while I read, and the answer is always no, and they’re cool with it because they love listening to the story. Also I make reading really fun with different voices and sound effects and lots of animation.
If your kids are fidgety, find something they can do mindlessly. I have two sisters, and when my mom read to us growing up we would always paint our nails (and her toenails) while we listened. We could always get an extra chapter out of her if we gave her a full manicure and pedicure, hah!
At what age did you start reading chapter books to the boys?
This is going to completely vary from kid to kid. I started reading chapter books to B when he was three. But that is super young. Fos joined in when he was almost five.
You have to gauge their interest, their ability to sit and listen, their comprehension levels, etc.
But I’d definitely start with early reader chapter books,* and then audiobooks, and then work your way to novels.
*I shared my favorite early reader chapter books at the bottom of the post!
Do you ever take away bedtime stories if they’re being naughty?
Almost never. Reading to them is something we love to do together, and I don’t want to use it as a threat.
But I have a hard fast rule that I won’t start reading if it’s past 8:30. Otherwise it gets too late, because we typically read for 20-30 minutes. And sometimes I’ll tell them I’m not reading if it’s past 8:15, and that helps move the bedtime routine along.
Do you always read at bedtime? Do the boys ever take turns reading?
I always read our family read aloud novel at bedtime – almost never during the day, unless we’re on vacation and are stuck in the hotel room while the baby naps or something.
I read separately with them during the day, and those books are more on their specific reading level. Early chapter books with Fos, and a middle grade level book with B. I wrote about my daily routine here and you can see where and when we fit it in.
For our family read aloud novel, I am always the reader. They don’t take turns reading.
When I read individually with B, I also am the reader, although I’d like to start alternating pages with him so he gets even better at reading aloud. We do have him read scriptures aloud to everyone every few nights, and he reads to his brothers quite often, so he does get some practice already. And during our individual reading time, he really likes to just lay on my bed and relax while I read to him. We’ll see how it goes over time.
When I read individually with Fos, we’re reading early chapter books that he’s capable of reading, so we alternate pages as we read.
My kids are older – is it too late to start reading to them?
No, never!! It’s never, ever to late to start reading! And if your kids are older and you’re struggling to find things in common, or find time to bond with them, reading a fun book together is a great place to start.
But it might be harder to convince them of it. Maybe start with an audiobook on a road trip. And make sure all your books that you choose are FUN. Ones that they’ll love and won’t push back on.
How do you keep your voice from dying?
Several of you asked this! I definitely can feel it after reading aloud 3 times during the day, especially if the characters are yelling (cause obviously I always yell too to make it more fun). I guess it’s going to vary from person to person; your voice might not hold up with this much out loud reading, but mine does okay.
My mom, as I’ve mentioned, read aloud to all four of her children until we moved away to college. She apparently had an incredible soprano voice in high school and college, but after years of reading aloud, she’s now nearly a tenor. So if your job requires you to keep your voice is good condition, maybe consider audiobooks instead of reading aloud. Or just don’t yell so much while you’re reading, like I do 😉
How long do you read for each night? Do you set a time limit?
I don’t set a time limit, but usually I read one chapter, unless the book has very long chapters. It takes us between 10-30 minutes.
When do you fit it in with your bedtime routine?
Reading is the very last thing we do before they go to bed. We usually start our bedtime routine around 7:40, and this is how it goes:
- Quick shower – they all take one together, currently, and they’re in and out within 5 minutes
- Teeth brushing – we use the Oral B app and THESE ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSHES
- Personal scriptures – B uses THIS STUDY GUIDE to help him with his, and the little boys watch THESE VIDEOS from our church’s website
- Personal Prayers
- Family scriptures – we read out of THESE ONES
- Family prayer
- Sanny goes to bed
- Reading aloud time with Mom
The goal is to get everything done by about 8:15pm. As I mentioned above, I won’t read past 8:30pm, but we aim for 8:15pm.
What age would you recommend Harry Potter?
I got this question a lot since I mentioned we were starting Harry Potter together. I think it’s a pretty personal choice, but four chapters in and I’m thinking Fos (at age 5, and, as I mentioned, is a good listener and comprehender) is still too young for it.
B at age 8 is loving it, but there are a lot of pages full of long, thorough descriptions, and that’s really tough for a little kid to follow.
Also I’m feeling a little nervous about the end of the book when it gets scary. We will definitely not be reading the next book for a while. I’ve heard about families who read each new Harry Potter book at the beginning of each fall, to match up with the start of school and the start of Hogwarts, and it makes it all a little more magical. I love that idea, but we might wait 2 more school years to do book number 2. We’ll see how I feel next fall.
But those of you asking if it’s cool to start with your three year old, I’d recommend not. It’s MUCH too mature for them.
It’s all personal preference, but wait until they’re able to have a handle on a large number of characters and a complex story line.
When did you start reading books without pictures?
We still read LOTS of books with pictures. My 8 year old loves picture books, and we get tons at the library every time we go. I’m not in a rush to get rid of them.
I think it’s great to have a mix of picture books and novels without pictures that you read together.
All the books I read aloud to them at bedtime are novels with no pictures, but we have this illustrated version of Harry Potter, so that’s one exception.
I love reading books without pictures to them though, because as we read they paint a picture in their minds, and it helps build their imagination. I’ll often explain or summarize some of the descriptions so they learn how to build the scene in their imagination. It’s great fun for me.
When they are Sanny’s age, what do you do if they get up and don’t want to read?
Just go with the flow — don’t force them. Introduce books often, and choose books that you know they’ll love, and eventually they’ll catch on if you’re patient and persistent.
Sanny loves dogs and construction trucks, so we choose many books from those subjects, and those help keep his attention.
But at this age (age two), their attention span is very short, so don’t take it personally.
Do you do one on one reading AND bedtime reading AND have them read on their own?
Yes! When we go to the library we check out 40-50 books, and we also own a lot of books, so we always have a lot of books to read.
Sanny has a large stack in his bed, and he reads them in the morning after he wakes up, before he goes to sleep, and before/after his nap. He’s pretty careful with books, but if your child isn’t, put board books that you own in their beds instead of library books with paper pages.
When my boys start fighting during the afternoon, I often tell them to grab a book and take a few minutes to settle down.
I don’t force them to sit and read on their own for a set amount of time, I just give them opportunities during the day to read.
But we have dedicated one on one reading time nearly every day (I wrote more about that HERE), and then bedtime reading every night.
LOTS of reading going on here, and we love it!
Do your kids get confused with all the different books you’re reading to them, with them, and listening to?
Actually they don’t. I hadn’t thought of that until I got this question, but it’s definitely a valid point. But I think this also comes with practice, as they learn to follow a story and characters.
Plus, we talk about the stories often throughout the day, and that helps keep everything straight.
Favorite Early Reader Chapter Books:
- Mercy Watson
- Amanda Pig
- Nate the Great
- Frog and Toad
- Little Bear
- Mr. Putter and Tabby
- Strega Nona
- Henry and Mudge
- Owl at Home
- Mouse Tales
- Frances Series
- Elephant and Piggie
- Minnie and Moo Series
Favorite series and books that are a great place to start, and are appropriate for 5 and up
- Henry Huggins Series
- The Mouse and the Motorcycle
- The Indian in the Cupboard Series
- Half Magic Series
- Farmer Boy & the Little House on the Prairie Series
- Charlotte’s Web
- Boxcar Children Series
- Roald Dahl Classics
- The Penderwicks Series
- Mrs. Piggle Wiggle Series
- The Tale of Despereaux
- The Children of Noisy Village Series
- Ginger Pye
- The Chocolate Touch
- Owls in the Family
Check out more of our favorite read aloud books in THIS POST
Other books on my list to read aloud to my boys in the future:
- Redwall Series
- Chronicles of Narnia
- Winnie the Pooh
- The Green Ember series
- Pippi Longstocking
- Homer Price
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
- Cheaper by the Dozen
- Percy Jackson Series (B and I just started Book 1 together)
- The Spiderwick Chronicles