Reading exposes children to a depth of language and vocabulary that gives them a huge academic advantage. I’d like to offer a list of ideas to help you make reading a natural part of your family’s life. Feel free to adjust or delete according to what suits you and yours.
1. Use the Library in a Way That Works for You
Our family has been through different seasons when it comes to library usage, including one in which taking my children there just didn’t work for me (because of their young ages). During that time I still used the library by going alone and choosing books for the kids. It became a special tradition, as they looked forward to the surprises in store upon my return. If you don’t have library access, think about what you can substitute instead. A book exchange with friends? Electronic books that you can download through a service like Overdrive.com? Making a wish list of books for relatives when they ask what to buy for holidays? Stocking up at garage sales? Do your best using what’s available to you in this moment.
2. Don’t Feel Tied to Bedtime Reading
Rarely in my life have I enjoyed bedtime reading with my kids, a fact I tried to hide for ages because it felt like the parenting police might show up and take me away. In all honesty, though, by the time evening arrives after a long day, I lack the patience to enjoy stories with my children. (Haven’t you ever found yourself skipping pages here and there to reach the end of a book? And has your little one ever called you out on it?)
Bedtime isn’t the only acceptable reading time. I prefer mornings, when I have the most energy. Or you might try snack time with the kids around the table when they get home from school. For years now I’ve found our best time for reading aloud to be during a meal — when little mouths are busy chewing, giving me a captive audience. If you try and fail, don’t assume that reading aloud won’t work for you — just get creative with your timing.
3. Invite the Whole Family
I realized several years into reading stories to the kids that Steve missed out on most of them since he was at work all day. So we began a family reading time after dinner, while everyone was still at the table. (Keep in mind that we tried this only after the kids were around age eight and had the attention span to keep up with us.) Our most successful readings as a family have been short — no more than ten or fifteen minutes, even if that means stopping in the middle of a chapter. Better to leave them wanting more than to have everyone give a sigh of relief when you’re done. For families with children under eight, reading a short Bible passage or story might work well at dinner. We love the Jesus Storybook Bible for littles.
4. Drop a Book If It Isn’t Connecting with Everyone
At one point, we’d started reading the Narnia Series together, and we reached a title within it that just didn’t connect with everyone. I pulled out all the stops — doing crazy voices for characters, making the readings shorter, and taking time to discuss what we were reading. But it wasn’t much fun since not all of us were enjoying it. Family reading is about bonding, about deepening relationships. You need everyone “in” for it to work. So, I thanked that well-written book and returned it to the shelf for another season. I’ve found that when I’m willing to do that, we’ve gone on to an even better title next — a good exercise for me in letting go of control.
5. Talk about What You’re Reading Personally
Our kids need to see that reading isn’t only a child’s activity. Or worse — something assigned to endure until you can move on to something “fun.” Accomplish this easily by setting the example yourself. Keep your own books on a side table in the dining room or other high-traffic area, somewhere the children will naturally notice. Take a moment here and there to describe a suspenseful plot twist that captivated you, or read a short quote aloud that they might appreciate. No pressure to read from someone else’s list of official classics. Begin with your own interests, whatever they may be.
6. Use Audio Books
For parents with work commutes, for lengthy road trips, and for the auditory learner when Mom’s or Dad’s voice starts to wear thin, audio books save the day. Download one for yourself when you’re folding the laundry or making dinner, or find a collection for the kids to choose from during afternoon quiet times. Discover new titles at audible.com, librivox.org, and your local library. If you have a child with dyslexia or a visual impairment, you may qualify for a subscription to LearningAlly.org. Our family has found it invaluable!
7. Go with the Interruptions When You Can
At times I cannot even get through a paragraph of reading aloud without an interruption. A cup spill sends a child rushing to clean up, someone falls off their chair with a loud bang, or there are back-to-back questions about plot or vocabulary. It can make a well-intentioned
parent throw in the towel. But don’t give up! Young kids’ interruptions may be merely logistical, but as children grow, their interruptions have more to offer — an insight someone noticed, a comparison to another book’s character, a deep meaning-of-
life question. Don’t skip these, even though they slow the reading down! Indeed, one could argue that these interruptions are precisely why we read: to learn how to think, to have new ideas and observations. Find a method that works for you to handle these moments. I taught my kids to raise their hands when they have a comment or question and wait until I can pause to listen to them. It doesn’t work flawlessly, but it helps.
8. Get Dramatic
I’ve been known to get a little crazy while reading. If a character leaps to her feet in a frenzy, I do the same — surprising my unsuspecting audience at the dining table. Reading aloud should be fun for parents too, right? So add in a bit of drama when you feel like it. Experiment with different voices and accents.
Welcome a little silliness from time to time. We may find that those moments leave the best reading memories in our children’s minds.
9. Take Turns Reading
Don’t feel as though you have to do all the reading aloud yourself. As your kids begin reading confidently, add them to the process. Have each person read a verse during your Scripture reading, or one stanza from a poem, or a page or chapter of a story. Not only does this provide a natural setting for everyone to practice reading for an audience, it adds to the family bonding of reading together, leading to the feeling that “this is just what we do, part of who we are.”
10. Don’t Stop When the Kids Get Older
Our reading times have only become better as my children have gotten older. We now have more interesting discussions about the real world, its wonders and its challenges. We make deeper connections as books lead us to new levels of thought. You aren’t just reading to your kids until they can read to themselves. You’re creating a culture of words, meaning, and the power of story — one that will grow richer as the years pass. Enjoy it!
Excerpted with permission from Give Your Child the World by Jamie C. Martin, copyright Jamie C. Martin. Published by Zondervan.
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What other tips can you offer to make reading a natural part of family life? Come share with us on our blog!