Bedtime Reading: It’s Not About the Books

The following is a guest post written by Jimmie of Jimmie’s Collage.

Reading to our children is confirmed to be one of the best ways to promote academic success. It builds vocabulary and critical thinking skills not to mention providing a foundation for literacy. We all know that, and most of us do read to our children, especially at bedtime. We have discovered the joy of sharing an adventure novel with our children where the characters almost become part of the family.

But the most important element of bedtime reading isn’t the reading at all. The real treasure that comes from bedtime reading is the communication between you and your child – communication that goes far beyond the shared experience of the plot.

You might be missing this benefit if at the end of the chapter, you shut the book, turn off the light and say goodnight. But if you linger after reading time is done and talk to your child, you know the gift I’m referring to. There is a special closeness that happens as you lie on the bed with the lights dim and all the busyness of the day complete. Those nighttime discussions are precious and life transforming.

My daughter has come to expect our night time talk so much that even if we don’t read together, she will ask me to get on the bed “just to talk.” This habit demonstrates that the lines of communication are staying open with my middle schooler.

So many parents and children, even in homeschooling families, don’t really talk beyond of the practical logistics of life. They don’t dream about the future, share hurts and fears, and problem solve troubling situations.

Of course the time of day doesn’t matter. Your time may be at breakfast or in the afternoon. The point is undivided attention. And that is why bedtime is perfect. Your pajamas are on; the daily tasks are complete. Sleep is the only job ahead of you. Distractions are at a minimum.

If you want to work on your bedtime communication, here are some tips.

1. Ask open ended questions.

You aren’t looking for yes and no answers but a discussion. Ask about feelings. Offer broad openers so that your child has a chance to talk freely.

It might be less threatening to start by talking about the book you’re reading. Then you can shift into more personal matters.

Photo by lancefisher

2. Use wait time.

Don’t be afraid of silence. After you ask an open ended question, give your child time to think and to respond.

Research has shown that wait time increases responses and the length of response. So slowly count to five before you rephrase your question or move to another topic.

3. Listen more than you talk.

We are always teaching our children, telling them what to do and critiquing their performance. Bedtime talk is when you can hear your child’s heart.

Listen a lot and speak little.

4. Be an example.

Be vulnerable enough to share your own dreams and struggles.

Cry and laugh with your child. Obviously, you don’t want to burden your child, but she needs to know that mom is a human who deals with fears too.

Do you have a bedtime ritual that includes times of heart to heart sharing? What do you do to foster that atmosphere?


  1. yay! I LOVE the read aloud habit!! yep, and ruminating and talking too. though for us this rarely happens at bedtime, I’m usually pretty zonked… but it does happen a LOT throughout the day, thanks to a healthy habit called – narration!

    it is SO awesome to hear my kids on any number of subjects… it’s actually difficult to get them to stop. 🙂

    as to hearing their hearts, this too happens at all times of the day, though, you’re right those nighttime talks often have an extra special element!

    thanks, Jimmie 😉

    amy in peru
    amy in peru’s latest post: Composer Study: Handel {for Christmas!}

  2. This is such a wonderful post and I couldn’t agree more with everything that was said. Thank you for posting! I will definitely be sharing!
    Joyce @Dinosaurs And Octopuses’s latest post: Handprint Reindeer Craft For Santa

  3. Oh yes! I call read alouds The Homeschooling Glue !
    My 17-year-old snuggles in to re-hear stories I am reading to my younger 2! Precious memories and wonderful intimate times are created through read alouds.
    Nadene’s latest post: Grace to say “Yes”

  4. My favorite part of bedtime reading is the snuggling. My son isn’t a very affectionate boy, but he sure likes the snuggling while reading a story!

    I was really shocked to learn that a lot of families don’t read to their kids before bed. I grew up with stories and so did my husband, so I kind of assumed that most people do that.

    I’ll have to try talking more after the story. We don’t do enough of that. We talk a lot throughout the story, so much so that sometimes our bedtime story times last around 45 minutes. But I cherish that time so much and will miss it when it’s gone someday.
    Christina @ Interest-Led Learning’s latest post: 10 Non-Traditional Christmas Movies for Homeschoolers

  5. Thanks, Joyce for the positive feedback. I hope you have some great bedtime reading this week!
    jimmie’s latest post: Public Speaking Victories

  6. What an awesome post, thank you so much for sharing! I have been looking at bedtime as a chore lately. Tonight, I will enjoy every second of it!
    Melissa’s latest post: It’s here!

  7. Superb article!

  8. I love this post. One of my favorite parts of my day is our bedtime routine (and not just because I know I’ll be getting some quiet time soon) . Each of my girls (4.5 and 2.5yo) pick a book to read, and we have our Bible time, share about our favorite part of day, and say our prayers. Sometimes we just keep talking and talking and talking. I hope that we can continue this routine for a loooong time.
    Joyce’s latest post: A Nice View

  9. We did read some when the kids were smaller, but it became a BIG part of our homeschooling once I brought the kids back home. We always read right after lunch and even into high school the kids loved it. I usually had 1 of the 3 snuggling with me, until they thought they were too big!
    We always used our reading as a springboard for discussion!
    Successful Woman’s Resource Center’s latest post: Clearing clutter to make way for gifts

  10. I, too, love reading bedtime stories to my little ones. But most days, I am so exhausted by bedtime that the “quiet talking” gets pushed aside, even when I know my kids love it. Thanks for the reminder that the relationship building is much more important, I’ll try to remember that : )

  11. Wonderful post!! We have quite an elaborate bedtime ritual. First the two boys play awhile in one room, but usually mommy and daddy are both there watching them dance and “play piano.” Having both our attentions at the same time is a rarity for them, so I know it’s a special treat for them. After that, each child retreats to his room with one of us and we read a book (or look at books with the toddler). And every night, I make up a story to tell my five-year-old. He loves this, and as I have written in my blog, I truly believe that telling stories we make up is an expression of love and a way to honor our children’s make-believe worlds. I can address issues in my stories that I want to impart to him, but usually I just entertain and I always incorporate the ideas he comes up with for the stories. I love how it fosters his imagination too. I also linger with him and usually ask him what his favorite part of the day was too. It is a long bedtime ritual, but I think that this is the luxury of homeschooling – we don’t have to rush through anything!
    shelli’s latest post: Gift Ideas for Home Educators

  12. This is such a true post! My kids would heartily agree with all you wrote 🙂

  13. Absolutely lovely! ~ bedtime moments sometimes feel like holy moments.
    Leslie’s latest post: Pain and Compassion

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