My dear friend wrote this:
You need a blog post on devoting time to reading with children! Especially for the non-reader parents who wish for their children to love reading! Really, I find that I have so many things I could be doing in my day… We’re non-stop around here, it seems. Grabbing a few books and snuggling on the couch mid afternoon is not as second nature as I wish it were. I parents did this with me exactly zero times. I grew up not enjoying reading at all. There are so many factors at play but I think that’s one of them. I just can’t seem to want to carve out the time bad enough. I was a lot better at it when we had 1-2 kids. We read much more frequently than we do now. The house is filled with so much chaos. Constantly, it seams… I’m struggling to just through the end of the day.tragically, book/reading time falls way at the bottom of the totem pole.
And to that I would say this:
Be free from the guilt! If you aren’t a natural bibliophile, you aren’t a bad parent. If for whatever reason, you did not grow up doing much reading, you can still impart a beautiful gift to your kids. If sitting down and reading to a child feels like a chore… that’s okay! Here’s a few brief tips for my less than bibliozealous friends:
- Fake it ’til you make it. Number one thing you can possibly do is to not let on your displeasure or annoyance to the child! When I’m not “feeling” like reading to a child, I will say simply “Okay, just pick out one story (and I’ve no problem vetoing long books if I’m not up for it) for tonight.” But I read it with as much gentleness and interest and love as I can muster. The last thing we want is for our kids to pick up on stress and let story time become associated with memories of mom being at wit’s end.
- Make time. You have to. It’s not optional. Being a good parent does not mean you have to feel warm fuzzies and spend hours in a treehouse together reading all the best books in the world. But it does mean that you have to read to your child often. I truly believe that. And I would say a few times a week, if you can’t manage daily. It doesn’t have to take more than 10 minutes. But that investment of time will pay off HUGE dividends in the end. If it feels like a chore to you, so be it. Add it to the list right after lunch and before laundry. Somehow, make some kind of routine time for it… and remember rule #1.
- Read books about books. I’m currently working on a post about the best books about books available. Reading great literature guides and other things will help you to warm up to books in general and get excited about reading. Look for that within the month hopefully.
- Stock up on audio books. While this can’t replace a parent who’s not interested in reading… it can help tremendously. The biggest thing is simply having a stock on hand! Invest in a bunch now and keep them in a place (if they’re not mp3 files) where you will see them and remember to use them.
- Pray. Seriously. I think reading is so important that it’s worth praying to God that He help you find the time, energy and patience to make it happen. If a child is raised to be interested in the truth and raised with a healthy appreciation (if not love) for reading… they can always find their way back to the Truth about Him. The vast majority of fallen-away or lukewarm Christians I know, are non-readers. Our children will be attacked. They will be tempted to turn from God. Reading opens up a whole powerful arsenal they can use to equip their minds with the proper defenses and truths about what nobility is and what goodness is and ultimately, what truth is.
- Don’t give up! Don’t just be tempted to think, “Well, I’m no good at this. It’s a constant struggle. I can never make it to the library. There is no time… etc.” Keep plugging away at it. Seeds will be sewn even if you can’t see to buds yet…
It was one of those beautiful, mothering moments when you are just so exquisitely happy and relieved that something you’ve tried to model and teach by example… has stuck:
My nine year old rifling through the bin of books to collect his prize for the library summer reading program– Mom holding her breath, as she does every year waiting to veto a Goosebumps title or to simply roll her eyes at the twaddle-rific Star Wars books. (These types are always plentiful in giveaway programs.) So he finally makes his selection and brings it to me: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
“Nothing else looked very good,” he states casually.
Mother bursts with pride… for we have no time to waste with the mediocre.
Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of visiting the new main library in Vancouver, WA. Sublime. Superb. Glorious. I felt like I was in New York City with the advanced architecture, features, technology and details. I went with my younger sister and three of my biblio-wee-ones and headed straight to the children’s floor. Oh my goodness, this was a far cry from the library I grew up with in this same city long ago. I think it may be a good thing that we don’t live in Vancouver anymore because I’m not sure I’d ever leave that place! I’d pack up my older boys’ homeschooling books and we’d trek to the library each day and let my toddlers run amok while we did our work surrounded by infinite resources to support our learning.
The second we got to the children’s floor (yes, floor… it’s on it’s own level), my sister tried to take me to the back area to look at all the infinte details with their excellent interactive play area… but I stopped like a kid in a candy store just looking at their massive amounts of children’s books. She thought I was right behind her but I’d dropped to my knees and started pulling books off the shelf to preview. See, we are blessed to live within walking distance to our community library and I’m ever grateful for that. But it really is rather dinky. And comparing it to this library would be like comparing a little league T-Ball team to the New York Yankees. I tried not to feel envy. I saw so many authors that my own library system doesn’t carry and such a delightful method of organizing books too. I was in hog heaven.
On top of this, there was indeed a wonderful variety of children’s games, features (the community was asked to donate some items to contribute and my dear late grandmother’s pressed flowers are imbedded in this giant tent for the kids to play in… and my nephew has a rusty, railroad spike he found and contributed–it’s now encased in a clear box with other trinkets and the like) and super innovative educational activities that really were rocket science compared to the 4 or 5 wooden puzzles that my own library branch offers. I know, I know… envy is the big green monster. I have to keep my eyes on my own stack of books, truly. But if you ever are travelling north or south on the I-5 corridor through the Vancouver/Portland area, you really MUST stop and see this library downtown. It would be an excellent place to stop and let the kids get a bit of energy out without resorting to a McDonald’s play area… this is no ordinary library.
You know you’re doing something right on the bibliozealous front when you wake up in the morning and your three oldest sons are all bundled under a blanket together reading random pages in this:
“Happy is he who has laid up in his youth, and held fast in all fortune, a genuine and passionate love of reading.”
Rachael asks what can be done to help her daughter love story time. Some kids are just wiggle worms and don’t like sitting still and reading books… and this can be very disheartening to mamas who want to raise up little readers. Rachael did mention that her little one did love Richard Scarry (good taste that one!) so there is hope! Stick to what she’s interested in for now. Some other ideas that may help:
- Don’t mandate sitting still. Allow her to draw or color or even jump around while you read… she still may be listening.
- Read during snack or lunch time! I think this is one of the best ways to “force” listening among squirrely children. Two year olds can be strapped in a high chair and older kids have to sit at the table to eat. You can read and show pictures, librarian-style during this time.
- Lunch time is a great time to introduce stories that are longer and with fewer pictures since the kids are preoccupied with their food, they will generally sit still and just listen to what’s going on. I made special “tea time” for fairy tale (the old, picture-less, non-PC kind) reading with my boys. The stories are rich and the vocabulary tough but I literally sweetened the deal by making muffins or somesuch, put a dollop of honey in their tea and read while they sipped and nibbled. I’m sure a significant percentage of what I read went right over their heads, but I think it’s important to challenge them and get them familiar with rich language and tough vocabulary words.
- Another place where children have to be naturally still is in bed. Night-time reading next to their bedsides is a fantastic habit to get into, and it makes for warm memories as a bonus.
- Consider books on CD. Go for a long car ride and pop in a book on CD to start instilling the habit of attention. Soon, you can transfer this habit to home during ‘quiet time.’ Five year olds are old enough for beginning chapter books like Charlotte’s Web or James and the Giant Peach.
- You can check out picture books at the library that have a CD accompaniment. The great thing about this is that many children who don’t read yet like to flip the pages at the special “page flipping” sound so they are attentively listening for that.
- Don’t be afraid to deviate from the story line. I used to substitute the names of my kids into the story as the protagonists, maybe adding in a sibling or friend also, and they loved hearing books about themselves.
- Talk about what you are reading. Ask her what she’d do in such and such situation or what part of the picture she likes best. Try to mimic some of the artwork. Play ‘finding’ games with rich illustrations.
- Try letting her work some beeswax in her hands while you read. Beeswax is pretty tough before it gets warmed up in little hands so it’ll take some of her fidgety energy out while she’s trying to mold it. If it proves too frustrating, just go to a basic clay or playdough.
- Get some beautiful, wordless books (e.g. Tuesday or Anno’s Counting Book) and see if she is receptive to just talking about the pages or even better, telling the story herself.
- Create a lovely space for reading. Consider refashioning a closet into a reading nook or using some creative pipes, boards or framing materials to hang cloth over. If you make a space inviting enough… kid appealing enough… they’ll want to be there: “If you build it, they will read.”
- Same thing goes for book display. Most of our books live on the shelf. Select seasonal and library books are placed in beautiful baskets around the house. We’ve been known to employ the rain gutter system too; get something forward facing at least! For resistant readers, you have to put a little extra effort into marketing! But it is worth it!
Most of all, don’t give up! Even if you feel like your efforts are in vain and she’s getting nothing out of it, she is! She’s hearing stories (don’t let the frustration drip out of your voice!) and lovely language and will be all the better for it. If you need some reconvincing on the importance and value of reading aloud to children, check out Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. This book is incredibly important for parents to read. While I don’t agree with 100% of his book recommendations, the information and statistics in this book are very, very good. They will make a big impact on you and help you feel better about your goals when read-aloud time seems useless.
Finishing up the afternoon dishes I noticed the quiet in the house… never a good sign around here. I wiped my hands and immediately set off to investigate. I found a sight to warm my bibliozealous heart… the children on a Dr. Seuss binge in the front yard: