Every father and mother should have a repertoire of stories––a dozen will do, beautiful stories beautifully told; children cannot stand variations. "You left out the rustle of the lady’s gown, mother!" expresses reasonable irritation; the child cannot endure a suggestion that the story he lives in is no more than the "baseless fabric of a vision." Away with books, and "reading to"––for the first five or six years of life. The endless succession of story-books, scenes, shifting like a panorama before the child’s vision, is a mental and moral dissipation; he gets nothing to grow upon, or is allowed no leisure to digest what he gets. It is contrary to nature, too. "Tell us about the little boy who saved Haarlem!" How often do the children who know it ask for that most hero-making of all tales! And here is another advantage of the story told over the story read. Lightly come, lightly go, is the rule for the latter. But if you have to make a study of your story, if you mean to appropriate it as bread of life for your children, why, you select with the caution of the merchantman seeking goodly pearls. Again, in the story read, the parent is no more than the middleman; but the story told is food as directly and deliberately given as milk from the mother’s breast. Wise parents, whose children sit with big eyes pondering the oft-told tale, could tell us about this. But it must be borne in mind that the story told is as milk to the child at the breast. By-and-by comes the time when children must read, must learn, and digest for themselves.
~Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series, Volume 5, p. 216
I’m not sure I fully understand her reasons–perhaps some of it was the little availability of books for small children in those days, but given her dislike for literature designed for children in general, I doubt it.
Anyway, I’m not giving up reading out loud, but over the past few months I’ve been trying to suppress the urge to go hunt up a library book with a story they need to hear, and replace it with telling the story myself. We skipped the Thanksgiving books and I told them the story of the First Thanksgiving. When D1 asked about Santa Claus, we told her the legend of St. Nicholas. Monday I revived "Henny Penny," which I used to read to them out of an anthology.
The practical advantage I can see right off is that I don’t have to have my hands free to hold a book. Thus, it’s even easier for the children to beg for the same story over and over while we’re working or caring for the babies–until they know it well themselves. On Thanksgiving Day D1 heard a passing radio reference to Squanto and recognized it immediately.
Perhaps long term, the difference is that a child this small first needs to know their parents above all, which means it’s good for the stories to come filtered through the parents’ experience and philosophy. The parent also can better adapt the story on the spot to the child’s needs and understanding. (I do this anyway when reading books, but perhaps it goes smoother when I’m telling the story off the top of my head.) My children don’t mind brutal endings (like in Henny Penny!) but other children might.
Since books written for preschooolers are inevitably accompanied by large pictures, perhaps telling the story rather than reading the book gives a greater motivation for the child to learn to picture the story for himself instead of relying on outside props. Seeing parents telling stories, not just reading them, might also provide a greater model for narration later on.
Above all, telling stories instead of reading them means that a few stories will be learned, dwelt upon, and slowly understood. A good folk tale or historical legend has far-reaching implications, moral, literary, historical–it is worth coming back to again and again.
Whatever the reason, I’m enjoying the experiment enough to continue. There are still some favorite picture books I couldn’t bear them to miss out on, and we’ll still read non-fiction books when they’re interested in a topic, but I’d like to focus our read-alouds on the Bible and an occasional chapter book, and give them their heritage of folk tales and religious and cultural icons by telling them the story myself.