As a former teacher, I know without a doubt that our children need to be spending time reading. They need to be reading with grown-ups, without grown-ups, silently, aloud, questioning and thinking. Time spent reading is invaluable for a growing mind and is highly correlated with future academic success across subject areas.
So I am constantly working on finding ways to make reading joyful and celebratory for my children. I want to ensure that they LOVE reading so that they do it. A lot.
And at the same time, I'm trying to juggle the multiple commitments that our family has on a daily basis. It seems that there is never enough time in the day, and that there is just never enough time for us to just be together.
2 big goals of mine which can be accomplished with 1 fantastic solution: Family Reading Time.
What is Family Reading Time?
Family Reading Time can be structured in any way that works for your family. The premise is simply that each family member will be reading their own piece of reading material. You won't be reading aloud, you won't be helping sound out words or monitoring your child's comprehension. But you WILL be snuggled up, quietly reading together, sharing an authentic reading experience.
In my family, we often have family reading time after dinner and before bedtime. We change into pajamas, snuggle on the couch and under blankets, and each have our own piece(s) of reading material. We've also had reading time at a coffee shop on a saturday morning, on a picnic blanket in our backyard and around the breakfast table.
I usually make hot chocolate or lemonade for everyone and some kind of special snack. While we enjoy our treats, we all open up our books and read. I don’t set a timer; I don’t want this time to feel like a chore, I want it to feel like a privilege. Sometimes, my kids last 5 minutes. And sometimes they last nearly an hour! I follow their lead. After all, I want to help my kids build a reading life and practice that will carry them through adulthood. And sometimes even adults sit down with a book and just don’t feel like reading. That’s okay!
Keep in mind that, like any experience, your child will need to build stamina for reading quietly. This is one of the amazing things about this exercise. As you build Family Reading Time into your family's routine, you will see your child (as young as 2 or 3 years old) grow in their stamina for silent reading and sustain independent reading for longer and longer time periods. This is one of the great benefits of this exercise!
It's never too early or too late to start this with your family!
We held our first family reading time when my oldest son was 2 1/2 and my youngest was only a couple of weeks old. The age of your kids will just impact how long your family reading night is and the type of reading material they bring (for my 2 1/2 year old, it was an enormous pile of board books). You and your high school children may be able to sustain reading for hours together on a lazy afternoon or rainy evening.
What is acceptable reading material?
This will be different for every family. For my family, pretty much anything with words and pictures that my children are interested in looking at closely can be brought to family reading night. Our primary purpose for this time together is to develop a love and habit of reading. Therefore, I want our children to have as few limits on this time as possible.
Family reading time is a great time to talk about how readers choose their reading material - how they know when a book is too easy, too hard, or just right! Hopefully you have surrounded your children with lots of varied reading material in your home so that they can find and bring whatever is interesting to them on this particular day. If you see your child struggling to enjoy a particular book or to sustain reading on a specific day, talk about it! Is their book too easy? Too hard? Can you help them discover this and choose a more appropriate book?
Does everyone read silently during family reading time?
This is again up to your family’s preference. In my family, family reading time is not time for reading aloud. We have lots of opportunities for reading aloud to one another at other times, but the purpose of family reading time is different than my purpose for reading aloud. Much of the purpose of family reading time is that my children experience what it feels like to be an independent reader. Additionally, I want to model for my children that I love reading and that I (an adult without assigned reading minutes or homework!) value reading and do it for fun! I want my children to see my husband and I as readers.
So... family reading time is generally a quiet reading time. However, I love when my husband or kids stop their reading to share something their reading is making them think. Again – this is what adult readers do and something our children should be able to do as well. To model this, I will intentionally stop a couple of times during family reading time to share something with my family. I share with my family things that I am actually thinking, feeling, or wondering as I read. I might say,
- “I’m stuck on this word. Can anyone help me with what it means?”
- “I am so mad at this character right now! Can I tell you what she did??”
- “This magazine has the best idea for dinner. How does this look to you all? Should I tear it out and we can make it this week?”
- "I'm going to abandon this book. I picked it out at the library, but the words are so complicated and the sentences are so long that I'm having a hard time enjoying what I'm reading. I'm going to find a book that is more fun for me to read."
At the end of family reading time we all share something from our book. Sometimes we share our favorite part or our favorite character. Sometimes we just say what’s happening in our book, what we’re looking forward to reading next, or what we learned.
I know that it’s hard to find extra time in your family’s schedule so I encourage you to start small. 5 or 10 minutes of reading together is a great start and is really valuable for your child. Not only will they have exposure to text, but family reading night allows them to be a part of a community of readers (a kindergarten common core standard, by the way...). They see and experience that reading is a joyful shared experience. They see that their parents love to read. And your whole family gets to spend some quality time together.
Interested in learning more about why it's important our children see us reading for pleasure? This research has a great summary of facts on pg. 25.
Have you ever tried a family reading time with your family? Or are you planning on trying it? Let me know how it goes!