Large Family Homeschool Hack #3: Read-Alouds and Notebooking

I can’t believe we’re already at the second last day of this seriesI’m actually really excited about today’s post because I’ll be discussing two tricks that are potentially the biggest time-savers in a large family homeschool- read-alouds and notebooking(See my video on read-alouds and notebooking here.)

I know that these two terms are often thrown around in homeschooling circles as great ways to supplement learning, but have you ever considered the fact that they can be used as your sole homeschooling method?

Yes, really.

The more I use these techniques, the more I’m convinced that read-alouds (or silent reading if you prefer) and notebooking are enough to cover every single subject, every single day, with exception to math.

Not convinced? First let’s take a look at:

How Read-Alouds Can Be Used as Your Sole Curriculum

(This post includes affiliate links.)

homeschooling with read-alouds

I honestly don’t think that most people understand the value of books, especially living books. Sure, people know that reading is important, but even homeschoolers tend to downplay the benefits of a great piece of literature.

The truth is, as long as you are engaging your children in a variety of reading material, there is no need for textbooks. None. And as much as I love unit studies, if you or your kids aren’t the hands-on learning type, they aren’t necessary for an effective education, either.

Before you think that I’m suggesting that you read five books a day to your kids to cover each subject, slow down for a second. I’m going to let you in on a little secret….


One book or chapter a day will suffice. One.

You see, I have yet to find a single book that only contained one subject, and do you know why that is? Life isn’t broken into subjects, so it’s only natural that all books will contain information that covers a vast array of subjects.

A few months ago, we read The Magician’s Apprentice. In one fiction book from the children’s section of the library, we were able to learn about Roger Bacon, the Middle Ages, the roots of Oxford University, the invention of explosives, and the fearful attitude the Catholic church had towards science. This book brought to life what a textbook would have just turned into another boring set of facts to forget (not remember, mind you…but, forget.).

And it only took 30-45 minutes a day to read it, instead of hours of slaving over worksheets and boring, just-the-facts-ma’am reading in a typical school book.

The same can be said for practically any other literature- even what some people consider “twaddle.” So many people avoid reading the Magic Tree House series because it honestly could’ve used a good proofreading before it got published, but there is so much great information in these books. My Littles just got done reading one last week, and they were able to learn about ancient India, the Taj Mahal, elephants, and cobras- in one book! As for the bad sentence structure? I use it to show them what sentence fragments and run-on sentences are. Another lesson thrown in the mix, right?

And the best thing about read-alouds (besides bonding with your kids)? It doesn’t matter how old your children are. This is one homeschooling method that is truly multi-level, and it doesn’t even require any tweaking in order to do it!

Now on to:

How to Use Notebooking with Read-Alouds

using notebooking with read-alouds

My kids used to loathe writing. Every time I would assign a report or even a paragraph, they would whine and carry on.

Notebooking changed all of that.

The easiest way to describe this technique is a creative approach to journaling. Every time we start a new read-aloud, I give my children a folder with metal prongs. Then I print out a coloring page that goes with our book, or I allow them to make their own picture, and we glue it to the cover of the folder.

I proceed with reading to them, but I stop every few pages to randomly ask a child to tell me about what I’ve been reading. This is a great way to help them remember what’s going on in the story. After we’re done with the book for the day, I ask the kids for words or phrases they want me to write on the whiteboard in our “word bank.” Finally, I let them choose a notebooking page, and they write about the story. I usually don’t tell them what to write about. Some options are:

  • a summary of the chapter
  • an account of their favorite part
  • a list of events
  • a drawing with a caption
  • a labeled picture
  • a map
  • a character analysis
  • a prediction of what will come next

After they’ve completed their notebooking page, they punch holes in it and place it in their notebooking folder. After the book is finished, they have an entire notebook devoted to that one title.

Read-alouds and notebooking are such a simple, yet effective, and fun way for your kids to learn. Not only do they allow the possibility for all of your children to learn together, but they also cut out hours and hours of unnecessary busywork. 

Homeschooling a large family doesn’t have to be crazy or time-consuming. Give this homeschool hack a try. I wish we would have known about it from the beginning!

This post is a part of:

Homeschool blogger hopscotch


Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

59 thoughts on “Large Family Homeschool Hack #3: Read-Alouds and Notebooking”

  1. This is so true! Reading books is an amazing way to fill out kids’ minds with information. And I’m with you on the Magic Tree House books. One of my sons really struggled to go from easy readers to chapter books. And the MTH series is what helped him to make the leap. I think there is a place for “twaddle” in allowing our kids to be able to just relax and learn to love reading FOR FUN! I love to read Christian Fiction and some of that would be considered twaddle, I’m sure. But reading a book for pleasure means that I’m not constantly reading books that push me or that I have to struggle to get into. There is a place for both types of books in our lives, in my humble opinion. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “Live isn’t broken into subjects” – yes, yes, yes! And I was just having a conversation last night with my husband about this whole “twaddle” thing and how even we sometimes like to just veg out and read fluffy fiction sometimes, so why wouldn’t we let our Gv enjoy that, as well? Just like everything, I think the key is in balance. If all your daughter reads is Barbie versions of books, then maybe you’ll want to try and introduce some Little House or something, but if she’s really on a Barbie kick right now and she’s having fun reading, then why not let her?

    I love your notebooking idea – it seems so many of the notebooking resources I’ve come across are just so contrived and you can imagine how much I bristle against that, but your idea of a 3-prong folder that you add to each day is just perfect! That way, the page for the day could be completely open to anything that’s somehow related to that day’s reading – even a coloring page or maze for little ones so I could see that being a perfect solution to differentiating between all the ages and levels of your homeschoolers! I’m going to try this idea out with Gv today!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love read-alouds! When I don’t read-aloud our kids get sad. I usually do it daily

    For our group devotions, I read the scriptures aloud, ask questions, then I ask the kids what they learned.
    I read books to our youngest children and then several of our kids read aloud to me daily.

    During lunch I read a variety of books. We just recently finished Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM. The kids were so quiet during this book-they all loved it. I love this time too because it often introduces things that the kids may not know. For example, when read Sugar, we learned about the sugar milling process and right now we are reading about about a young basketball player, and the kids are asking questions about basketball. Many times, after we finish reading about, they want to read it too (and the rest of the series too).

    Then for History we usually have a read-aloud article, book or watch a youtube video. We are currently reading Around the World in 80 days. I have added a few notebooking activities, such as planning their own trip around the world (just a brief sketch) but with each chapter I try to do what Mr Fogg does.

    Until recently, I thought reading comprehension had to be taught a certain way, but then I sent an email to Shelley. Her response showed me that our children were getting reading comprehension exercises all day long-no formal program is needed. What they do not understand, they will ask!


    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so glad my advice about reading comprehension helped. It sounds like you’ve got a great thing going in your homeschool. We read Around the World in 80 Days several years ago. I wish I’d havw known about notebooking then because it would have been so much fun notebooking through that!


  4. This is exactly why I love home schooling! No torturous, and tedious, and ARTIFICIAL “lessons” focused on only 1 subject, that takes all day. and wears out both students and teachers! Learning is fun, if it isn’t made into torture! Kids naturally are curious, and love to learn! until schools, ruin it for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How old do you think kids need to be for notebooking? I had done some research looking into last year and loved the idea but at that time I just had a kindergartner and of course when he couldn’t read or write I couldn’t quite figure out how to use this approach.
    Now I have a first grader and kindergartner with another a few years later. I would love to do school based more on living books but am not sure how to put that into practice with them this young. Any tips or blog articles on that? Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually just read a great book on notebooking a few days ago called “Notebooking! Yes! You Can Be a Binder Queen!” that I found on Amazon. It was such an inspiration and gave great tips on how to apply it with kids of all ages. Just yesterday, I made an ABC notebook for my 3 yr old who always wants to “do school,” and copywork and animal notebooks for all of my other children who aren’t in high school, even my 5 and 7 yr olds. Copywork is great for kids who aren’t yet reading and writing because it gets them familiar with certain words, and it exposes them to sentence structure and punctuation from little on up without feeling forced. Some other ideas I’ll be using with my younger kids are having them illustrate something about their animal, then I will ask them for a caption, write it on the whiteboard, and then they can copy it into their notebook. One thing I hear over and over again is that, even when kids aren’t reading, they can still notebook because drawing IS a form of notebooking. If you read aloud to your kids, and they can draw a scene from the story, that is narration because it demonstrates that they understood what you were reading. I highly recommend the book I mentioned to you. It has me wishing we weren’t on break this week because I have so many ideas I want to try!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Amazingly I have never actually considered notebooking with read-alouds! Such a fabulous idea! The closest we’ve come has been lapbook after a literature book but I love the idea of students expressing their thoughts and ideas after each chapter. Thanks Shelley, definitely gonna do this!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have a couple questions on the details. When you gave the list of things your kids learned from reading one book, are those the things they notebooked about, things they/you have looked up to answer questions or find out more, or is it solely in the reading & hearing of those topics and then notebooking that they learned about them? Also, when you said “I let them choose a notebooking page, and they write about the story.” Do they pick from the list of topics to write about, just free write on blank page, or do you have pre-made pages of some kind that they are picking from? I’d like to do more read-alounds, but I’m finding that to get my two oldest (ages 7 and 5) through the bare basics of learning to read & write, and some copywork and literature selection for the older one, I’m running out of time and their energy to do it, still allowing time for free play and housework. I do get lots of interruptions between them and the 2 & 3yr olds, so it seems to take us longer than necessary to do little that we are doing. I’m assuming that in coming years these things will be easier!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really depends. I will usually give the kids a list of ideas of what to write about, but ultimately, it’s entirely up to them what they write about. (That’s only for our read-alouds. We also do unit studies, and I will often give them specific notebooking assignments for that.) I do use pre-made notebooking pages, but my kids will usually just choose whichever one they’d like to use. At your kids’ ages, I really think that copywork is the most valuable notebooking idea you could use for them. Another idea is to let them choose what to notebook about. Right now, my kids are all researching animals of their choice and notebooking about them. I also have a 5 and 7 year old, so I’ll use them as an example. My 5 yr old is learning about cats, and my 7 yr old is learning about horses. I don’t go too deeply into writing with them yet, so sometimes we use coloring sheets or they’ll draw a picture, and I’ll ask them to write a caption. (I write it on the whiteboard, and they copy it onto their paper.) Sometimes I will read a few pages of a book on their animal to them and ask them to tell me what they’d like to say on their notebooking page. Then I help them write it. Next week I will be writing a post devoted entirely to notebooking, so hopefully that will help you. (I hope this answered some questions, too!)


  8. I absolutely love this! Read alouds have been a staple for us over the years, such a treasure trove of memories! I love the way you detailed their use! Very helpful… especially for any new homeschool moms who may be reeling from the overwhelming number of choices for curricula!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for this! I’m in the planning stages for next year and want to incorporate notebooking, but I don’t want to over extend ourselves. I noticed elsewhere you strongly recommend only doing one notebooking page per day, or maybe two. I’m wondering how you work that if you’re doing read-alouds everyday. Would they do a read-aloud page and, for example, their history page? That would be 2 notebooking pages but not the 1 that you prefer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have a couple options. You could alternate – do a history page one day and a read-aloud page, the next. You could combine the two by reading a historical fiction or biography as the read-aloud (killing two birds with one stone).


    2. Sorry, it sent before I was done. You could do one page for each, but if your kids are young I would recommend against that. I usually only do two once they’re in high school. You could also just notebook for one or the other – read-alouds or history. Maybe you could do oral narration for read-aloud and a page for history. These are just a few ideas!


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