One of the behaviors I get asked about a lot is: “How do you find time to read aloud to your kids?”. It can be challenging to find time in a busy day to add in reading time. I encourage all parents to at a minimum end each day with a book for bedtime. This quiet time is good for both you and your child, and it is usually pretty easy to carve out a few minutes at the very end of the day to connect. If you feel yourself wanting to skip reading time and rush off to a show or chores, it may be helpful to remind yourself that it won’t be long until that sweet little face asking for a story will turn into the face of a young adult, no longer interested in you reading to them, so treasure these opportunities to snuggle in with a good book.
The Power of Hearing Books Read Aloud
Let’s begin this discussion with some understanding on why it is recommended to read aloud to your children. Hearing words read aloud, especially from well written books, helps in developing vocabulary, imagination, and literacy. In fact, children who are read aloud to tend to perform better in school and often read earlier than their peers.
Listening to a book can also help to calm or quiet a child. Reading a book aloud at bedtime is a great routine to develop, as it will help their brain begin to associate a story with time to prepare to go to sleep.
In addition, time spent reading books to a child also can help strengthen the parent-child bond. Reading time may be one of the few moments you have some days to engage with your child without the distractions of technology or busy schedules. Try to leave your cellphone outside of their room, so you are not distracted by texts or alerts on your phone. Likewise, keep the tv off as well. Let this be a quiet time to just focus on each other and the stories you have selected.
What is the Right Age to Start Reading Aloud to a Child?
Even when baby is in the womb, they can hear your voice and the rhythm of your words. As an infant, hearing your voice and the rhythm of your words helps begin building their vocabulary. It also will help you bond with your infant, as well as create an invaluable habit for you both. As your baby progresses into toddler-hood, you will likely find your child reminding you that reading a story or three is part of going to bed. Toddlers that are used to being read to at nap and bed time will have developed the skill of holding still for a story, which makes adding in additional reading time easier. If you are trying to read to your toddler or preschooler during the day, it is fine if they seem like they are running about and not as focused. They are still hearing the words and benefiting from the vocabulary. Not all reading time needs to be done sitting quietly. Again, as they become more accustomed to being read to, they will crave it more and be more likely to begin holding still for more stories.
How Can I Squeeze in MORE Reading Time?
My three favorite ways to add more reading minutes to a day include:
1. Listening to audiobooks.
I am a huge fan of audiobooks. I have been known to use audiobooks on my cell phone and headphones for a kiddo, along with a coloring book or sketch pad to keep their hands busy, if I have an appointment I need to bring them to. When my children were really young I would check-out short stories from the library, as their ability to focus on the plot wasn’t long. We did not reserve these audiobooks only for long road trips, but rather would listen to them every time we got in the car. This facilitated two purposes: 1. It kept me from struggling to find radio channels I was comfortable with them listening to (they knew more composers than pop music artists when they were in early Elementary School, as we rarely listened to mainstream radio); and 2. It filled their days with great stories. They were able to hear different voices reading books, and were exposed to rich vocabulary and the different language patterns. As the kids grew older, we moved to short novels and eventually longer novels. We explored new genres and titles I may not have selected to read aloud myself, but they happened to be the audiobook available that day that was age appropriate. This lead to many wonderful family discussions about the characters in the book, what we each thought would happen next, and whether we hoped there would be another title to follow. My children learned the process of literature analysis without even realizing it was happening and more importantly they developed a great love of books. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that audiobooks in the car were a huge sanity tool for me too, as they typically left each other alone if the book was on, as arguing made noise which meant they couldn’t hear the story. That alone was a win!
2. Adding books at meal time
This was another sanity moment I figured out when my son was a toddler. He took forever to eat. I found myself drawn to wanting to do dishes or other chores to pass the time, but I knew it wasn’t safe to have less than my full attention on him while he was eating in case he started to choke. Also, whenever I directed my attention at something else, he would stop eating. Hence, once I finished my lunch I started reading books aloud to him. The rule was as long as he kept eating, I would keep reading. Young children are typically good at self-regulating their full mechanism, so I felt comfortable that he wasn’t going to eat more than was healthy just to get me to read. I would bring a big stack of picture books to the table and read them to him each day at lunch. This resulted in us again checking out many titles we may not have explored otherwise. We found all sorts of fun new books each week at the library. Also, once he was old enough to understand, we would take turns picking which book I read next. It allowed me to intermingle different types of books without protest, as he would go through phases where he fixated on things like trucks or dinosaurs, but when it was my turn to pick I would pick other topics. This habit also became really helpful for eating in a restaurant. He was used to sitting quietly to be read to, so it was a good distraction as we waited for food to arrive.
3. Adding books to bath time
Books during bath time was more for my sanity than the kids’, as both of mine loved bath time. I would either read waterproof “bathtub” books to them in the bath or would turn on an audiobook for bath time. Again, the learned behavior of reading time being a calm time helped keep bath time fun, but not too crazy.
Final Tips for Making Reading Simpler & More Fun
- Attend story time at a local bookstore or your library. Again, hearing books read by another person is beneficial for your child, as well as the opportunity to learn that it is fun to share stories socially with their peers.
- Use your library card, even if just for downloadable audiobooks. I am a big believer in using our local library as much as possible. We typically go three or four times some weeks, even if just to pick up books we placed on reserve. Some people don’t use the library because they have a hard time getting books back on time, and if this sounds like you, the library can still be useful to you. You can check-out electronic copies of books to read from a kindle to your kids and you can also download audiobooks to your phone, computer, or tablet. You don’t ever have to leave your home to get these, and they automatically disappear when your check-out period is over – meaning no late fees.
- Make getting a new book part of your holiday traditions. Each year for their birthdays and Christmas, our kids are given a new book with the year written in the cover. This tradition is one they look forward to each year. This is a great way to grow your home library without breaking the budget.
- Keep a book in your purse or bag for “waiting periods”. Instead of handing your phone over to your child, try turning on an audiobook while you shop or wait. If you are waiting in line at the store or waiting to be called back at an appointment, pull a book out of your bag and read aloud to your child. This will help teach them how to be patient while they wait their turn, as well as again adding s few more reading minutes to their day.
- Get family involved. We live far away from grandparents, so when my kids were little their grandparents would connect with them on the webcam and read to them. It was such a great way for them to see each other frequently. Sometimes we would each even check-out the same books at the library, so the kids could hold the book and turn the pages while grandma or grandpa read it thousands of miles away.
Remember, that you are giving your child a great gift by reading to them every day! Teaching them to love reading is providing them the ability to self-entertain, explore their imagination, and grow their vocabulary and understanding or language. Try to find little moments to squeeze in a story and a snuggle.