daily helps

Learn 5 super-easy strategies to keep your child's attention during read aloud times. 

It happened again.

I had read an entire selection from our current read-aloud to my child. I could see her attention wandering, and by the end I knew I had lost her.

I knew it was an interesting book. I knew if I could keep her attention while I was reading aloud she would love it.

Bu when I finished with that short section, I asked her to tell me anything that she could remember.


Deer in the headlights.

It was obvious what I was doing just wasn't working. Being a being an analytical person, I knew I needed to figure out how to keep my child engaged during our read aloud times.

So I came up with 5 strategies that almost guarantee that my child will stay engaged (and yours, too!). 

I found them so useful that I made them into a bookmark that I use all the time! And It’s free for you to download in the CM Resource Library.

NOTE: Read aloud books are books that you read aloud to your children. They don't need to be fiction, but they should be living books for maximum engagement.

what you'll need to keep your child engaged during read alouds

1. Recap Last Week's Reading

Because we use a Charlotte Mason homeschooling approach, we read books slowly and over several weeks. This means we often read from a particular book only once a week.

This also means that if we pick up a book, that it's hard to remember off the top of our head exactly what happened the last time we read.

This is where the recap comes in.

Do you remember watching TV when you were a kid? Before Netflix when you could binge watch a whole season and one night?

When the episodes only came out once a week, at the beginning of each episode the announcer would briefly recap what had happened in previous episodes.

"Previously, on all my children."

Even cartoons would do this. "When we last saw our intrepid duo...."

We should do the same thing with our books. Help your child recall what happened the last time, so that they can get excited about what will happen next.

If you have trouble remembering, jot a few notes down on a Post-It note at the end of today's reading. 

Just a few words to jog your memory.

Stick it in your book with the bookmark below so you can easily refer to it next week.

That slides right into previewing what you're going to be reading this week.

2. be a movie trailer: preview this week's reading

Think about watching a movie trailer on TV.

It teases the exciting parts of the movie.

They don't give the whole plot away, but they give you just little snippets to make you want to watch it.

You call to your husband who is doing dishes in the kitchen while you're sitting on the couch, "Hey, honey? That looks so good. We're going to see that as soon as it comes out!"

A girl can dream, right?

Even without theatrical trailers, when you're telling someone about a movie that you want them to see, you'll tell them little bits of it. Just enough to get them to want to watch it,  but you're not giving them a full blow by blow account.

We want to do the same thing when we were reading to our child. If we've looked over the passage, we can give them just a little bit. Just enough to pique their interest.

No spoilers!

"Today we're going to find out what happened to Harry and Ron after they crashed the car into the woods."

Include your child in this.

Ask them, "What do you think's going to happen? Do you think their parents are going to be angry with them?"

Not only does this involve children in the story, but it also helps them develop the skill of predicting what will happen next.

It will help develop them into more active readers when they are reading their own books.

After you've recapped last week's reading, previewed this week's reading like a movie trailer, then remind them to listen closely.

3. Remember to Listen Closely

Even with getting kids excited about what's going to happen, it still helps to just give them that little reminder to pay attention.

I use a very simple, "Remember to listen closely now."

Or sometimes, I'll say, "Remember to pay attention."

Either one reminds your child what she's supposed to be doing.

It's just a little reminder but it seems to really help when they're told, that this is what they need to do.

Once we've recapped last week's episode, previewed this week's passage, and reminded our child to listen closely, now it's time to actually start reading.

And the only way to read is to read with feeling.

4. Read with Feeling

It doesn't matter how engaging a book is, if it's being read in a monotone voice it's hard to follow.

It doesn't matter how old the listener is. If the presentation is boring, the listener will be bored.

Think about your favorite audio books.

Chances are, the narrator is involved with the book. He's able to convey that by how he reads it.

This means doing the voices if you're reading something with dialogue.

It means putting emotion into your voice.

It means slowing down in the difficult places and speeding up in the exciting places.

Convey as much emotion as you can while you're reading to your kids.

Use your entire body. Use hand, arm, and facial gestures.

If you come to a part where a character slowly cracks open a door and peaks around the door frame, then act that out while you're reading.

If you're not used to doing this, it can feel really embarrassing. Even if your only audience is your kids.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

This alone is the number one way to keep your child's attention. 

If you are engaged, they are much more likely to be engaged.

But it doesn't matter how exciting you make the reading if those who are listening don't understand the words.

5. Define Words in Context

Listening comprehension is a complicated mix of being interested in the material, understanding the meaning of the words, and drawing on our previous experiences for background knowledge.

It doesn't matter how interesting the material is, if the vocabulary is too high.

One way around this is to define words in context. 

What that means is we're not going to write vocabulary words on a chalkboard before we start. We're going to give the definition of some of the difficult words as we're reading.

"Peter's coat and shoes were plainly to be seen upon the scarecrow, topped with an old tam-o-shanter of Mr. McGregor's." 

Look up from the book, look at your child, and say, "A tam-o'-shanter is a kind of floppy hat."

Then continue reading. "Little Benjamin said it spoils people's clothes to squeeze under a gate..."

See how this doesn't interrupt the flow of the story? But it gives your child enough information that they can picture things in their head. Even if they don't know the words.

Don't do this to every word. Just the ones that you know your child does not understand and that would be hard to figure out just from context. (Is a tam-o-shanter a scarf? A hat? A cape?)

If you're having to stop every sentence to define words in context, then the vocabulary of that particular book is probably too high.

Find a book that will be easier for your child to understand, that still has good vocabulary in it, and then work your way into these higher level books.


Did you skip to the end? Here are the five strategies to use every time you're doing a read-aloud with your child.

  • Recap last week's reading
  • Preview this week's reading (think movie trailer)
  • Say, "Remember to listen closely"
  • Read with feeling
  • Define words in context

I put these five tips onto a beautiful, simple, done-for-you bookmark to keep as an easy reference.

They are printed four to a page, so all you have to do is print out a sheet, cut on the solid lines, and then fold the top on the dotted lines.

One of the things that I hate about bookmarks is that they always slip out when I open a book. By hooking that folded part over the top of the page, the bookmark stays in place.

Not only is it a handy way to keep your place, but you'll be reminded every time you open that book to do these five simple steps.

Soon it will become second nature!

Your spouse is almost home from work and you still have no idea what you’re cooking for dinner.  You guess it’s spaghetti again, and hope the family doesn’t complain that it’s the second time this week.  You’ve been running all day but can’t figure out what you’ve done, and you still haven’t gotten a full day of all the lessons you’re “supposed to do” in, and you wonder how in the world people pull off this Charlotte Mason thing.

You want to do more intentional work with the kids, but there’s always someone asking for something, and the living room floor strewn with toys and half-finished projects covering the dining table nag at you.  And you’re just so tired!

You get the kids in bed and plop on the couch to veg and watch a few Netflix shows that you don’t even care about, but you can’t think about doing more.

You finally drag yourself to bed and sigh when you see the piles of clean clothes you dumped there this morning.  You didn’t get around to folding them today, but you’re so exhausted it’s not going to happen now.  Sweeping them off into the clothes basket, you promise yourself you’ll fold them tomorrow.  Then you remember the wet clothes still in the washer.

You love your family, love your kids, but can’t help but think, “Is this all there is?”

Sound familiar?  I’ve been there.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

You can be fulfilled, joyful, happy, and have a life that feels easy (or at least doesn’t feel hard all the time).

Over the last several years, I’ve come to see that there are things that when instituted consistently, bring this peace to a homeschool.  It doesn’t matter what kind sort of homeschool philosophy you follow; these principals are universal.

I call them the four pillars of a peaceful homeschool.

Why pillars?  I love this visual of Greek architecture.  Pillars are what hold up great amounts of weight.  They are so much more than just decorative accents, but are instead integral parts of the structure.  Take a pillar away and the entire thing can come crashing down.  At the same time, they are more than just utilitarian.  They can be beautiful in their own right.

The beauty of these four pillars is that they not apply no matter what homeschool philosophy you follow, but they aren’t dependent on a religious tradition or a specific culture.  They are universal.

What are they?

Self-care, Rhythm, White Space, and Gratitude

Each one is just as important as the others.  Let’s take each one in turn.

Pillar 1:  Self-Care

You’re laughing to yourself right now, aren’t you?  You can’t even go to the bathroom alone without little fingers sticking under the door, how can you even think of self-care?

In order to continually give give give to your family, you have to also take care of yourself.  You know how when you fly on an airplane they tell you that if the oxygen masks fall, put it on yourself first and then help those around you?  They say this because you can’t help anyone else if you’ve passed out from lack of oxygen.

The same applies to your life.  You can’t give endlessly of yourself if you’re not taking care of yourself.  Sure, you can force yourself through for awhile, but it shows up in snappish attitudes, short tempers, impatience, depression, feeling like chores are endless and a drudgery, resenting your family, and avoiding doing the daily tasks that need to be done to run a smooth house and homeschool.

When I first heard of self care I imagined a woman going for a weekly manicure and massage, putting on a full face of makeup every day, and going on regular shopping trips with her friends while her kids ran wild at home.

No thank you!  I’m not a shopper, I don’t ever do my nails, and I’m not about to spend the money on relaxing massages.

Self-care doesn’t mean you’re selfish and it also doesn’t need to take a lot of money.

Think of a few small things that you could do every day that would refresh you.  That are for you and you alone.

Here are some ideas:

  • sit on the back porch in the morning
  • get up earlier than the kids (highly recommended!) to have a few minutes just to yourself
  • set aside 10 minutes at night to read a book that has nothing to do with homeschooling and that’s just for you
  • take 10 minutes while you’re outside with the kids and take off your shoes to stand barefoot on the earth
  • put on under eye concealer and mascara
  • read from a book of wisdom from a spiritual tradition
  • let your spouse put your kids to bed while you take a bath

Plopping on the couch to watch Netflix in a daze after the kids are in bed is not self care (though being intentional about it can be).  Surfing on your phone mindlessly watching cat videos is not self care.

A good barometer is to ask yourself afterward, “Do I feel refreshed?  Or do I feel like I just wasted that time?”

Write down your own list.  Then look at that list again and decide on one or two things that you can realistically carve out time for on a daily basis.

And then do it.

Pillar 2:  Rhythm

Regularity.  Routine.  Cycle.  Predictability.  A template for your day, your week, the season, the year.

Knowing what’s coming because you have a regular routine frees up valuable brain space.  It’s important for kids because it makes them feel secure about the predictability of the their world, but it’s just as important for adults.

Start with mealtimes and sleeping times.

A regular bedtime for both the kids and you, early enough that they and you can get enough sleep to be rested during the day.

Naps are good too, for both young kids and nursing moms.

Develop reasonable times for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  They don’t need to be bam-on-the-dot every day, but try to shoot for a 15 to 20 minute range.

Once you have those pretty well in hand, try time blocking the rest of your day.  You don’t need to be a slave to a schedule, and certainly not one that’s scheduled to 15 and 30 minute increments.

Instead, time blocking means that maybe you decide to do lessons in the morning and household work in the afternoon.  Or an hour and a half of lessons in the morning, an hour of working on the house, then after lunch you have two hours of time for family activities with your kids.

However you decide to do it.

The most important thing is to be consistent.

Pillar 3:  White Space

“The beginning of the week was great!  We got everything done, I was so productive and finished several projects I’d left unfinished, we ate on time and the kids slept.  But halfway through the week I didn’t even want to look at the schedule I’d made for us and instead I spent the rest of the week on Facebook.  What went wrong?”

You didn’t give yourself white space.

White space in graphic design is negative space.  It’s not “nothing” — it has a specific purpose, and that’s to let the eyes rest so that the other elements of the page stand out better.

Think of a page in a book.  Words don’t start at the top edge of the page and continue uninterrupted to the bottom.

There is a margin around all sides of every page with text.  There is spacing between the lines so they don’t overlap.  Words have spaces between them, letting us know that one word stops and another begins. Even individual letters have a small amount space between them; they are not bunched up right next to each other.

White space.  Margin.  Rest.  A breather.

You need to work this into every single day.  Not only once, but multiple times during the day.

This is where ease and spaciousness comes in to your life.

Letting things flow naturally from one thing to the next, rather than rushing to do the next thing.

This is not time to be on your phone scrolling through social media, but time to simply BE.

Slow down your pace.  Take some deep breaths.  Don’t schedule activities back to back.

Stop lessons or this activity or that one a few minutes before you think you’re “supposed to” to give yourself time to transition to the next.

Leave a part of your day unscheduled, and don’t fill that time with TV or scrolling on your phone.  Give yourself that extra time to do what feels good in that moment.

Maybe it’s looking at the lizard your daughter caught.  Maybe it’s writing a letter to your 97 year old Grandma.  Maybe it’s doing some yoga positions.  Maybe it’s lying in the grass looking at cloud pictures in the sky.

Do you know what Charlotte Mason called this?  Masterly inactivity.

Pillar 4:  Gratitude

The fourth and final pillar is gratitude and thankfulness.

This is just as important as the other three.

Gratitude will change your attitude.  It will change your outlook.  It will change your focus from what is wrong with your life to what is right about it.

It is the simplest of the four pillars, and perhaps the most powerful.

How to incorporate this into your day?  Start with a 5-minute journal.  You can buy one on Amazon, or you can just use a $1 composition notebook.

Every morning write down three things that you’re grateful for.  Then write down three things that will make today great.  Finally, write an affirmation.

In the evening, write down three things that made today amazing, and then how you could have made today even better.

That’s it.  It’s that simple.  Do it consistently though and watch how it changes your life.

You can add your children by having them write their own thoughts, or simply talk about what you’re grateful for as your introduction to morning lessons.  Sometimes I read Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, other times my daughter and I just take turns saying what we are thankful for.

I like the Giving Thanks book because it focuses our thoughts on the natural world, and starts “To be a human being is an honor.”

Quick recap of the four pillars of a peaceful homeschool:

  • Self Care
  • Rhythm
  • White Space
  • Gratitude

Take these one at a time and incorporate them into your life.  Start with the easiest one for your situation; success breeds success.

Having just one pillar in place will improve your satisfaction with your homeschool life.  Each additional one will create a firmer foundation on which to rest.  Having all of these in place is a huge step towards ease and peace.

Want to remember the Four Pillars of a Peaceful Homeschool? Pin it to your favorite homeschooling Pinterest Board!