Want to spend more time together as a family and make books magical for your children? Reading aloud to children can be a wonderful frugal family activity!
Reading Aloud to Children as a Frugal Family Activity
One of our family’s favorite frugal activities to do together is to read books aloud. Yes, you heard me right. Out loud. We homeschool our five young children, and reading is at the core of everything we learn. I am a big believer that if you can teach a child a love of reading, they can go on to learn anything they want.
As a child, I was reading The Little House on the Prairie chapter books by Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was only 6 or 7 years old. I can still recall the rush of running to the school library bookshelves, striving to be the first of my classmates to snatch up the next book in the Boxcar Children series. The Wheel on the School or The Mother Tree were both coveted titles, as well, and we all knew only two copies graced the shelves of our small-town school library. It was a long two-week wait if I wasn’t quick enough to get to my favorite titles first.
I have read large quantities of picture books to my children since their birth. I scour library book sales and pick up copious amounts of discarded books at yard sales. $10 for a giant box of books? Don’t mind if I do!
After Thanksgiving last year, I decided to try to read The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis with my family. Now, my children are young —the eldest is 8, all the way down to just a couple of months old. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out; attention spans, you know, can be a bit challenging with small children, especially boys (and of my five, four are boys!).
They were utterly captivated. C.S. Lewis’ work is beautifully written with excellent dialogue and vivid description. The two-year-old all the way up to the eight-year-old listened closely and at the end of each chapter, they would plead for “just one more chapter!”
Most nights, the family piled onto the couches in the living room after dinner. Wrapped in warm blankets and cozy in pajamas, it was a time together as a family that we all looked forward to at the end of each day. Even my husband, who is not much of a reader himself, looked forward to our read-aloud time. For free, we were transported together to another time, another place, and a new adventure.
Now, I don’t want to paint a false picture of perfection here. Generally, at least one if not two boys were standing on their heads or (quietly) doing somersaults across the living room while I read. Sometimes I would set out building blocks or puzzles to busy hands while I read. Occasionally, quarreling children would need to be redirected or a crying infant soothed.
Sometimes they just could not focus on the chapter, so we would read a few picture books instead and try for Narnia the next evening.
But no matter how chaotic our read-aloud times felt, I was amazed at the comprehension and retention my children sustained. Before we would start a new chapter, I would always ask, “What happened in our story last time we read?” Even my four-year-old would pipe up with one detail!
When I read the final sentence of the final chapter in our first-ever “big” book (read: not a picture book), I breathed both a sigh of relief and of sadness. Relief because: we did it! I wasn’t sure we could, but we did! Sadness because: It was over.
To celebrate our achievement, I suggested a ‘Narnia party’. This was simple and very inexpensive. I simply popped in a DVD of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and provided a big bowl of popcorn while they watched. During the scene where Edmund meets the White Witch and she enchants him with Turkish Delight and hot cocoa, I delivered hot cocoa and cookies.
The book simply came alive to my children even before their ‘Narnia party,’ but the experience of celebrating the completion of a big book gave them a huge desire to start another.
How to Find Great Read Alouds
There are so many great book lists online. If you search for “living book lists,” you will be provided with huge lists of excellent options. Living books are books that make the subject “come alive” through conversational style. They pull you into the story and involve your emotions, making it easy to remember facts.
My suggestion when you are choosing books for your family is: There are no rules. Just start doing it! If you read to your children for 15 minutes a day every day for a year, you will have read for over 90 hours. 90 hours! And the memories made will last a lifetime.
There are many booklists online if you need recommendations. I suggest looking for “living book” lists, which are simply books that are well-written to evoke our senses and truly draw us into a story. Best-seller lists, friend recommendations, and spotlighted books at your local libraries are also great ways to select books.
As adults, we need reading time as well! Winter especially is a great time to dig into some educational, inspirational, or encouraging reading material. Are you planning to plant a garden this summer? Find a book on gardening trends, tips, and tricks. Run a home business? Look for new releases in time management and entrepreneurial skills. Need a vacation? Read a book that takes place across the seas, in another time zone, or perhaps a different century. Step into the story, soak it in, and really experience it.
Where to Find Cheap or Free Read Alouds
The cheapest way to get started reading is simple: Go to the library (it’s free!), and just start digging. Ask the librarian for suggestions for books with captivating stories and (if you’re looking for picture books) beautiful illustrations. At our library, suggested reads are set out by the librarian on the tops of the bookshelves or in special sections labeled “best sellers,” “new non-fiction,” “new fiction,” and the like.
I already mentioned my addiction to buying used books at library sales and yard sales. Other favorite venues to add to my home library include websites such as abebooks.com and amazon.com. (On Amazon, you can find new books as well as used books that are much cheaper!). thriftbooks.com and ebay.com are other good options if you know the title of the book you are hoping to attain.
Another obvious but often overlooked way to find new books to read is to simply ask like-minded friends. What are they reading, and why do they love it? Suggest a book swap with a friend. (But always be mindful to return it in the same condition!) Afterward, discuss the book over a cup of coffee/tea. Some books will be so good that you’ll want your own copy. For those, try to utilize some of the resources above to save cost.
Are you a minimalist or simply don’t have enough space for physical books? Audiobooks and e-Books totally count, and are much cheaper to purchase! If you are an Amazon Prime member, you already have access to hundreds of free titles for both audio and e-reading. Personally, I love Audible book downloads for hands-free, screen-free entertainment on road trips in the car for my children and I. Generally we are doing one read-aloud chapter book at home in addition to picture books, and we also have one playing in the car even on short trips just to get a chapter or two in at a time.
Quality literature is an open door into new worlds of wonder, education, inspiration, and rest. In today’s fast-paced world, we need more of these intentional moments to slow down. So get the tea kettle on and cozy up with a good book. You won’t regret it!
Ideas for Going Deeper
Want to make the most of your read-aloud time? Here are some ideas that you can try!
- Tea Time – What kid doesn’t need a snack late-morning? Using these times of natural pause in our day is a simple way to sneak in a little bit of read-aloud time. Spread a tablecloth on the floor, pour some glasses of milk (or tea) and break out the muffins (or toast, crackers, fruit, etc.) If you’re feeling fancy, light a candle! My kids think this is super fancy, and it’s so easy!
- Recipes – Every year for Christmas, our family makes a birthday cake for Jesus. This year, my sister in law made the cake, inspired by a book she had recently read. Author Jan Karon had referred to this specific cake in multiple of her At Home in Mitford series books, and her readers started to ask her for the recipe. Trouble was, there wasn’t a recipe! So, Karon had to create one! I’m here to tell you it’s a good thing she did; it was delightful! Oftentimes at the back of (especially children’s) books, there will be a recipe. I can’t tell you how many times we have made Blue’s Clues orange juice popsicles! It’s a simple memorable way to keep a book in memory! I actually have a cookbook that coincides with Little House on the Prairie, and it’s fun to be able to make Ma’s yummy-sounding dishes!
- Research – In my daughter’s reading class, she is currently reading the book Heidi by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. In order to help her really visualize the book’s setting, I did a simple Google Image search for the Alps of Switzerland. We looked at stunning landscape photos, architecture, and the Swiss flag. Now, when she is reading about 8-year-old Heidi in the mountains, my 8-year-old daughter can imagine that much more fully what it would be like to step into her shoes!
- Read more – The act of selecting a book to begin is the hardest step! If you finished a book and can say you thoroughly enjoyed it, ask your librarian for more books by the same author. We have found many good books this way, including the C.W. Anderson children’s books that my children love so dearly.
- Keep a record – Everybody likes the sense of accomplishment. Did anybody else participate in Pizza Hut’s BookIt! program growing up? We do our own version of a reading rewards program with the books we read together as a family by writing down the title, author, and date we finished the book in a notebook. When we reach a certain number of completed books, we celebrate with a special dessert! The kids really get into this one!
What are you reading? I’d love to hear!
Looking for more info on books? Here are some other articles on Little House Living that you might enjoy:
- Where to Find Free Online Classes and Books
- Homesteading Books (Fiction and Non-Fiction Suggestions)
- How to Downsize Books and Simplify Your Collection
Kendra Paulton is a freelance writer, photographer and Certified StoryWay Guide specializing in family Legacy Books in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She resides on a fourth generation cattle ranch with her husband, five homeschooled children, and pack of German Shepherds. Visit her website www.dakotacanyonranch.com to connect.