For the record, this post is not intended to convey Charlotte Mason's views on reading to young children - these are my views ;) If the child has plenty of time to play (especially outdoors), though, I see no reason why this post would conflict with Miss Mason's ideas for children six years old and younger. So, that said...
Have you started reading chapter books aloud to your young children? By "chapter book", I mean a real, honest-to-goodness work of fictional literature. Not a reader. Not a picture book. A chapter book :) I have no way of knowing how influential reading difficult books aloud has been with my children, but I can at least say that reading great books aloud to them early on certainly hasn't hurt ;)
We begin reading chapter books aloud to the children somewhere between age three and three and a half. At first, the readings are very short (especially when the book has no illustrations to speak of). Gradually, we build up until we're able to finish a chapter of average length in one sitting. Books with longer chapters may be spread out even more. Sometimes we stop and talk about what I'm reading. Sometimes I ask chatty questions to help them follow along. Sometimes we just read. There's no schedule to our readings and no laid out plan. We just read the book here and there until we finish it. Right now, for instance, I'm reading Mr. Popper's Penguins to Punkin. We've been reading it for about 6 weeks now, only about twice a week. At this rate, it will be a while before we finish it, but that's okay :) Even at only 3 and 1/2 and even with days between chapters, she is able to remember where we left off and will offer guesses about what might happen next. Her mind is working on this book :)
I have no proof, but I imagine that reading chapter books like this does quite a lot to prepare a child for the sort of books used in formal Charlotte Mason lessons. More than that, though, it helps the child develop a real interest in reading challenging books... one of our primary goals for their education. In case you're wondering, the difficult vocabulary doesn't seem to put the children off - it intrigues them. Complicated story lines thrill them. I'm continually amazed at how my really young children become enthralled with books most children don't meet until they are much older. I say "meet" because the children really develop a relationship with a book read like this over a long period of time. The Little House in the Big Woods becomes one of the most exciting parts of the day and is remembered with fondness months after the last page is read :) I have wonderful memories of snuggling all together reading The Long Winter on a February afternoon while snow fell softly outside. Quality chapter books add a whole new dimension to the world of reading with your children... even your young children! I highly recommend giving it a shot :)
Below are a few good choices for beginning chapter books with preschool children. None of them are required reading for Ambleside Online, although a few do show up on the free reading lists. I hope they are a blessing to your family! Enjoy reading with your little guys :)
Mr. Popper's Penguins - Atwater
Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder
Farmer Boy - Wilder
Capyboppy - Peet (rather short and silly, but fun)
Stuart Little - White
Ginger Pye - Estes (I love this author!)
Pinky Pye - Estes
Misty of Chincoteague - Henry (read this when my oldest two were 3 and 4 and 1/2)
The Cricket in Times Square - Selden
The Boxcar Children - Warner (we've only read the first one)
I'm sure there are many others!
Psssst. Lindafay at Higher Up and Further In (great blog!!) has a terrific post about reading aloud to children. It's called "How Is Your Read Aloud Voice?" and you can check it out here. Enjoy! :)
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