Written by Sarah Mackenzie of Amongst Lovely Things.
I‘m convinced that the minutes and hours I spend reading to my children are the best invested moments of my entire life.
With six kids underfoot to love on and teach, I fight a constant feeling that I’m not meeting everyone’s needs- not taking time for the things that matter most- that someone is growing up with the underlying feeling of being overlooked or forgotten.
When I’m reading with my kids, I never feel that way. No one has to convince me that reading to my children will strengthen our relationship, form happy family memories, improve their ability to communicate, and make a lasting difference in all of our lives.
I am convinced that the story formed childhood my parents gave me was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.”
– Sarah Clarkson, Caught Up in a Story (p. 6)
I have seen the fruit of that already, and I believe in it with all my heart.
But just knowing doesn’t make the doing any easier.
We are all so busy! There are a million other tasks crowding our days and vying for our attention. Adding anything to our to-do list seems like a recipe for disaster- surely it will just be another thing we “should” do, but can’t manage to make time for.
We worry that it will be another source of guilt, and who needs that?
Here’s an interesting thing to think about: if you read aloud for just five minutes a day (and not a minute more!), you will read more than 30 hours over the course of a year.
That’s a lot of reading aloud! In that amount of time, you could read the entire Chronicles of Narnia, all of David Copperfield, the whole collection of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, or over a hundred picture books.
The trick to reading aloud every day, though, (even if only for 5 minutes!) is to set ourselves up for success.
5 Ways to Set Yourself up for Success
1. Keep it handy.
I love to use baskets and other pretty organizers around my home, but the problem with stashing our current read-aloud in a basket is that we can’t see it. We do what’s right in front of our face.
Good or bad- that’s just the way human nature is. It’s why we’re more likely to turn on a TV if it’s in our main living area, and why dieting books suggest keeping fruits and vegetables cut up and ready to eat.
If the book you are currently reading together is left out in a high traffic and highly visible part of your home, you’re more likely to grab it and get in your five minutes.
Not sure what to read? Try any one of these books from my list of favorites.
2. Do it early.
It can be hard to read aloud earlier in the day when schedules are crammed, but the earlier you get to it, the better. I love reading aloud to my kids before bed, but sometimes fatigue or a crazy schedule makes that difficult.
Instead of relying on my 7 p.m. willpower (which is, admittedly, almost non-existent), I’ve been trying to read aloud as early in the day as possible. One of the great boons of homeschooling is that we have the freedom to make this happen!
3. Peg it daily
Sticking to the same time every day can be a real challenge (and in fact, an impossibility) for many families. Don’t let yourself get discouraged by your struggle to read aloud at the same time every day.
Reading at the same time isn’t nearly as important as making sure that it actually happens.
Instead, peg your read-aloud time to something you’re doing every day anyway. In episode 7 of my Read-Aloud Revival podcast, Melissa talks about her family’s habit of reading poetry at breakfast.
I’ve always tried to pin read alouds to certain activities. I always used to do breakfast and poetry, because breakfast happens every day, so poetry happened every day! That initiative can be the hard part for me, in deciding that now I’m going to do this thing, so if I’ve got it slotted into a certain time of day, and there’s a routine to it, that seems to work well for everybody.”
In episode 11, Jamie shares her family’s habit of reading aloud during those final minutes before dinner, when life is crazy anyway and everyone is around.
My husband, Steve, had the clever idea of using that five minute period before dinner is on the table. You’re plating up or filling cups- it’s kind of a crazy time- so he suggested that he start reading then, and that gets everyone calmly to the table. We’ll start the chapter, which makes for a peaceful transition, then take a break while we eat, and then whoever finishes dinner first- him or I- will read some more when we’re done eating. It’s worked out really nicely.
Your family is unique, and what works for Melissa or Jamie might not work for you. But something else will.
What happens every day in your home that you can use as a peg for read aloud time?
4. Mark your progress
It’s true- stress-relieving endorphins are released when we check items off our to-do list. It’s a huge source of motivation to track progress. You can use the free printable 100-Day-Challenge tracker over at the Read-Aloud Revival, if you’d like. Hang it in a place where you’ll see it regularly, like on the fridge in the kitchen. Every day that you read aloud for at least five minutes, color in a flag on the banner.
Or use a simple calendar and just x off each day that you’ve read aloud. I like using a single page calendar-on-a-page, like this one. All those x’s forming a chain make me all kinds of happy.
5. Read what you love
When I am not enjoying a particular book, I have a hard time maintaining enthusiasm to keep at it day in and day out. There have been plenty of books others love that I have just not gotten excited about.
If you read what you love, your children will feed off that enthusiasm. You’ll find a lot of momentum radiating from the fact that you are enjoying yourself.
Can you remember a book you enjoyed as a child? Can you remember one that was laugh out loud funny? Does the cover of a book at the library jump out at you? Try it!
We aren’t swallowing cod liver oil or eating our vegetables here. We’re simply training ourselves to get used to sharing books with our children every day.
Five minutes is all it takes, and we all have five minutes in our day somewhere.
Even if it means I don’t finish folding that pile of laundry, the kitchen sink isn’t wiped down quite as well after dishes are done, or the kids stay up five minutes later at bedtime— it’s worth it!
This is something worth fighting for- something we will not regret making a foundational part of our family life.
I’d love to know- how are you making read-alouds a pillar part of your family life?