It’s not a question of why. We know that reading together translates to not only improved literacy skills, but also greater curiosity, empathy, social and emotional intelligence, concentration, and focus. And yet, on busy nights when the dishes need to be done and the email inbox is full, it feels so easy to say “We’ll read tomorrow.” And when your child would rather run circles around the living room than sit still and listen to a book, the temptation to skip story time becomes even stronger. So the question becomes how: How do we make reading together a habit?
From one busy parent to another, here are some tips that any family can use to establish a routine of reading together:
Pick a time that makes sense for your family.
Although reading can help children calm their minds and bodies before it’s time to sleep, reading together doesn’t have to be at bedtime. Maybe you will choose to read together before naptime. Maybe try reading during bathtime. Or, maybe the best time to have a captive audience is your morning commute. Consider your family’s schedule and find a time that you can be fairly consistent.
Make it special.
Reading together isn’t just about the books; it’s about the one-on-one time, and that’s really what kids want. Sit in a comfy chair or lay a blanket out on the floor. If possible, set your phone aside so you won’t have any distractions—even just for fifteen minutes. You can give it a special name, like “Mommy & Me Time” or “Daddy’s Story Time.” When you build anticipation for fun and expectation of time together, you’ll be surprised how the child who can’t sit in their chair for five minutes at the dinner table will suddenly be willing to snuggle up and listen to a book. Or maybe that’s just my kid . . .
Choose books that are fun to read aloud.
Read books with clever rhymes, silly characters, or lovely refrains. When you find yourself being pulled into the bouncing rhythm of a book, that’s magic! Try your hand at some animal noises. (I promise, your kid doesn’t care if your elephant trumpet leaves something to be desired.) If you feel theatrically inclined, use voices and sound effects. If not, no sweat! Try whispering some lines or saying others SUPER slowly. Here are a few of my family’s favorites:
Made for Me, by Zack Bush
The Cuddle Book, by Mifflin Lowe
Hugga Loula, by Nancy Dearborn
Snoozapalooza, by Kimberlee Gard
Be willing to read the same books again… and again… and again!
Kids have their favorite cups, their favorite shirts, and their favorite books. It can feel mind-numbing to read Brown Bear, Brown Bear every day for a month (speaking from personal experience), but remember that repetition is another learning avenue for kids.
Each time they revisit a beloved book, they will discover something new. They will learn more and more words as they come to understand them in context. And they will eventually join in the reading, filling in the ends of lines if you pause. There’s so much to be gained by exposing our children to a wide variety of books, and that will come. Just remember: There’s a lot of uncertainty in life, and your child will feel a sense of comfort and confidence when they know how the story ends.
Don’t worry about perfection.
If you didn’t start reading together on the day your child was born, that’s okay! Start now. If you miss a day, that’s okay! Read together tomorrow. You’ve probably heard the statistics about the number of words children are exposed to—or not—in their early years with just fifteen minutes of reading a day. That dismal comparison used to make me feel like I was already behind and could never catch up. Don’t get caught up in the guilt and pressure! Build your habit around spending time together and the cognitive development will come. The language and communication skills will come. The love of reading will come!
Brooke Jorden earned a BA in English and editing from Brigham Young University. The author of If It Fits, I Sits: The Ultimate Cat Quotebook, I Dig Bathtime, and the Lit for Little Hands series, Brooke is also the managing editor at Familius. Brooke, her husband, their three children, and their cat live in Cedar Hills, Utah.