I was reading a story to a kindergarten class last week about a chicken that repeatedly interrupts her papa during a bedtime story. In preparation for the sharing the book, I asked the children to raise their hands if they heard a story before bed. About one third of the hands went up. Somewhat surprised, I asked the remaining kids to raise their hands if they heard a story at a different time at home-a time other than bedtime. A couple of hands were raised. Just over a third of the children were hearing a story read to them at any point during their time at home.
I know that the parents in (and outside) of my school know the value and importance of reading. And I know the parents in my school are dedicated to their children and do their best to parent with intention. And yet the reality is that for many, they either have not found the time, made the time, or have forgotten the pleasure of reading to and with children.
Reading stories creates a shared world between the person reading and the person enjoying what is being read. Children who hear countless stories before they begin school look forward to and enjoy stories, understand what good reading sounds like, have a larger bank of words (super-helpful in school) and recognize that reading is important since time has been set aside for this on a regular basis.
As children begin to read independently, reading aloud to children often stops altogether. Even when children read on their own, they still benefit from hearing stories read to them. When parents read to their children and choose books the child can understand but may not be able to read on their own, the child grows as both a reader and as a thinker. Reading together allows parents and their children to talk about things that matter. Additionally, the child hears the way good readers use expression, vary how quickly or slowly they read, and pause or emphasize certain words or phrases. Parents can continue to support their independent readers in growing and thinking as they continue reading aloud to them.
Since we already know that reading to and with your child has many benefits, it becomes a matter of finding time. Reading times tend to fall into three categories; reading at a regularly scheduled time, reading sometime during each day or reading when time is available. And what works is as unique as the individuals who read. The guiding principle must be that since reading is important, we attempt to read every day.
For many, a certain time each day works well. Children look forward to their story time. Adults know they need to schedule around this special time and the habit of reading becomes well established. The most traditional time for stories is around bedtime as children transition from wake to sleep. A story, or two, or three defines that transition and gives structure readying for sleep. End-of-the-day stories can be soothing, calming and a lovely way to enjoy time together while reading and chatting about the book. Unless bedtime is not a quiet time in your home.
Some children are not able or willing to quietly enjoy a story before sleep. But because bedtime may not work, reading should not be cast by the wayside. Examine the times that your child seems amenable to a story and see if you can work a story in during that time. If you have a morning child, create a tradition of having a story or two before breakfast. If you think about any given day, and your child at any given point in time, opportunities will become clear. Seize that moment! If it works best to set aside a specific time to read, find a time that works. Read. Enjoy. Repeat. The most important thing is that you regularly read.
And while having a regularly scheduled reading time works for many, it certainly may not work for all. If you value reading and want the same for your children, use your dedication to find some time each day to read together. Have a nearby stack of books handy. Keep a book or three in your car, purse, backpack or bag. Find a time that is mutually agreeable. Pulling your child from an engaging activity is not a great setup for reading enjoyment. Finding a cozy spot, and cuddling together with or without a snack makes reading enjoyable for everyone.
Many families have variable schedules. Even the busiest of people can find ways to share reading. A friend who travels regularly for work still manages to read to her child using Skype.
In the end, we make time for the things and people that matter most. And reading with your child can be one of those things. It is not a question of value. It is a matter of creating opportunity from what is available to you—yet another reward that comes from parenting with intention.