How to Engage All Ages (even teens!) with Read-Alouds

Overview: Yes, you can engage all ages with read-alouds, and they can be fun for everyone, even the high schooler. Try this strategy and enjoy connecting with stories and spending time together. Note: This post was sponsored by Sonlight for their 30th Anniversary celebration!

The teen is bored. You glance at him out of the corner of your eye as you read, and he's barely keeping his own eyes open.

Meanwhile, the youngers are fidgety and finding ways to make noises with just about every body part.

Yet you valiantly trudge on with the current read-aloud, trying to make it as spell-binding as possible while at the same time pinching the teen to wake up and reminding the youngers after every other sentence to be quiet and sit still.

There must be a better way. Kids are usually fascinated by the Middle Ages! But for some reason not here and not now. Calgon, take me away! #80sreference

Homeschooling with multiple ages is a tricky business.

It can be very difficult to find things to study that interest all of the kids, especially if the chronological difference is a big one.

Read-alouds are a great example of this problem. Either the book is set at a level for the younger kids to understand, in which case the teen is bored silly; or the vocabularly and theme are for the older kids, which means the youngers are basically just sitting there doing nothing.

But one of the beauties of homeschooling and a reason why many do it is that we can foster family relationships and interdependence, rather than everyone doing their own thing and leading separate lives within the same home—right? And yet, sometimes the goal of connectedness can be hard to achieve.

In the case of read-alouds, wouldn't it be better if everyone could enjoy the same book at the same time? Learning with one another over shared stories is one of the best ways to build relationships and to explore new ideas, no matter what age or level.

Yes, you can engage all ages with read-alouds, and they can be fun for everyone, even the high schooler. Try this strategy and enjoy connecting with stories and spending time together.

I'm here to say that there IS a way to engage all ages with read-alouds.

Grant me license as an older mom here for a second to tell you something you may already know but might have forgotten: kids can listen AND do something with their hands AT THE SAME TIME. 

I learned this personally one day in church when my daughter—who I thought was focusing solely on drawing in the bulletin, LOL—suddenly piped up to answer a question the pastor was asking in his sermon. (Only loud enough for me to hear, in case you're worried about that.)

I realized then that though it looked like she was paying no attention, she was actually paying BETTER attention because her hands were occupied. It was harder for her to concentrate on what he was saying when she had to sit utterly still and be absolutely quiet. Ding ding!

When it comes to trying to engage all ages with read-alouds in your homeschool, it is not necessary for everyone to sit still with eyes fastened on you. Finding something for little (or big!) fingers to do can go a long way towards everyone having a good time AND enjoying a good story.

What can kids do while listening to the read-aloud? Here are some options:

  1. Coloring, Drawing
  2. Working with clay
  3. Beadwork
  4. Rainbow Loom
  5. Embroidery, Knitting, Crochet
  6. Model-building
  7. Legos
  8. Crafts

“Wait, what? CRAFTS?” you exclaim. “That's a recipe for disaster! Following directions, using glue? Or worse yet, glitter?? Not happening!”

Listen, I know it sounds crazy, but I found something new that might take those worries away—or at least lessen them a bit, LOL.

I was given the opportunity to partner with Sonlight for their 30th anniversary celebration this year—see below for more details about the festivities—and I'm so excited to do so. Sonlight is one of the few curriculum companies that has been around since before I started homeschooling over 20 years ago, and they've always provided quality curriculum centered around reading great books. Gotta love that!

Sonlight has a new product called Hands-On History.

These are project boxes for kids, full of crafts to build/make/do that relate to varying periods of history—and I think they would work great as something to keep kids occupied during read-alouds.

I received the World Cultures Hands-on History pack, as well as a handful of readers about the Middle Ages and a book of figure cut-outs to, well, cut out; and I can see the entire family listening and doing and enjoying one another while using these resources.

**Beeeeep! We interrupt this broadcast to inform you that you can enter a giveaway to win these very materials in a complete bundle! Stay tuned!**
(i.e., keep scrolling…)

The Hands-on History pack includes almost everything you need to make NINE projects—including glue dots—and the materials for each project are together in their own ziploc bag, so there is no sorting for you to do. Each box comes with complete instructions that have big pictures and easy directions. No work for mom; just open and make! This is the perfect tool to help you engage all ages with read-alouds.

See me unpack the Hands on History and other items here:

Here's what I envision to keep EVERYONE interested and having fun during read-alouds, using Sonlight's Hands-on History:

First Option:

Mom reads. Teen helps youngers with crafts.

Problems with this option: Teen gets frustrated with youngers; youngers get frustrated with teen. Noise and confusion. Mom reading to no one.


Teen reads. Mom helps youngers with crafts.

Stop a moment and just drink that in. THE TEEN CAN READ, y'all. Why do we insist on doing it all the time, when we have an able-bodied individual who can do it just as well as we can?

Do you see how great this would be? The teen is now practicing the art of reading aloud, which is worth the effort, hello; and they are engaged in the story because of that very thing. They can't zone out. They can't fall asleep. They can't make funny faces when you're not looking. They're too busy READING.

In fact, reading aloud could be counted toward their English credit, because it is a form of speech communication. Some teens may even get involved enough to start creating voices or asking comprehension questions or even leading discussions about what is being read. How cool would that be? (Or you could make those things a must-do, rather than just dull, monotone reading, reading, reading, world without end, amen.)

The youngers would rather have you help them with the crafts, because you are patient and kind—or at least moreso than the teen, LOL. You are also more able to keep the youngers quiet; or you can direct the teen to pause for a moment while you work out a tricky problem with construction or with little people not getting along. 

Of course, this may not run completely smoothly all the time, but at certain times or for short periods, I can see this being a great way to change things up from the usual and to engage all ages with read-alouds.

The projects in the Hands-on History World Cultures box are aimed at 6-8 year-olds, so the average kid will find them doable with just a helping hand from mom. (And slightly older kids may not need any help at all.)

If you're still worried about crafts being crazy, though, another option is Sonlight's Famous Figures of Medieval Times (or another of their Famous Figures books). Making these figures involves nothing more mayhem-y than coloring and cutting! 

Don't you think it would be fun to listen to your teen reading The Minstrel in the Tower while you are helping the littles build a catapult? Or to practice weaving with the youngers while you hear your 14yo tell how 14-year-old Catherine, Called Birdy tangled her spinning? Or to learn about Eleanor of Aquitane in A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver while making a moveable figure of Richard I, her son? Going on a Great and Terrible Quest with a knight and jester, while making a sailing ship that will really float—what a great adventure! Stories about the Middle Ages attract ALL ages, don't they?

I miss those days when the kids and I connected over the same story and would dialogue about it as we went about our day. Sonlight didn't have Hands-On History when we were doing read-alouds lo those many years ago; this is a brand-new product which I think will be a winner.

Would you like to win your own Hands-on History World Cultures box, Famous Figures of Medieval Times, and the four readers shown here?

Enter the giveaway today, because it only lasts for ONE WEEK! 


Sonlight is hosting a new giveaway EVERY week as part of their 30th Anniversary Celebration!

I'm a huge fan of Sonlight and what a constant they've been in the homeschooling world for so long. Celebrate with them by joining in all the fun activities they have planned through the year, including a Missions Read-a-Thon, an Instagram challenge, a new giveaway EVERY week, and more—including the GRAND PRIZE of an ALL -SUBJECT PACKAGE of your choice!

You can see all the details here: SONLIGHT'S 30th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION!

Or just enter the new giveaway each week right here: Sonlight Weekly Giveaways

And in the meantime, try letting your teen do the reading for a change. Who knows? Maybe the youngers won't even need you, and you can actually be the one who is sitting still and quiet—for the first time in weeks! A mom can dream, can't she? (Just don't fall asleep!) :-)

It's Not That Hard to Homeschool

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