In a survey I recently conducted, one of the most common reasons why parents and carers didn’t read out loud to their children more was because either they or their children didn’t have enough time. Given how important it is to read out loud to children, I thought I’d share some tips on how to build more shared reading into your daily routine.
Build reading into your daily routine early on
When something is part of a routine, it is always easier to ensure it gets done. Shared reading is no different.
The younger a child is, the easier it can be to build reading into their routine because when a child first comes into your life, you have no choice but to change your routine (and let routine go out the window for a while). Even if your family can’t build a time-based routine yet, you can still start building an activity-based routine. You could, for instance, feed Bub upon waking, then read a short story out loud and follow that with some tummy time before the next nap. This can be a great way of introducing a gap between feeds and tummy time for those babies that tend to regurgitate their milk if they get put on their tummy too soon. If that’s not a problem for your child, you could read a story to Bub during tummy time. This can be a good way of providing a distraction for babies that don’t enjoy tummy time (this worked very well for our little one who hated tummy time).
If your child/children are older, it’s not too late to incorporate more reading out loud time into their routine. The key is to do so now – don’t put it off another day.
Make shared reading enjoyable – if everyone looks forward to story time, you will find it easier to fit more in.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that there are few things more difficult than trying to get a child to do something they don’t want to do. Similarly, we adults tend to be very good at procrastinating when it comes to things we don’t enjoy. If you’re in a situation where at least one of you doesn’t enjoy shared reading time, take a step back and think about how you can make it more enjoyable.
If you find story time boring, is it because you don’t like the books you have on hand? If this is you, go to your local library, bookshop or an online bookshop and hunt down something you are more likely to enjoy. Ask your librarian or bookseller for help; they’re both fantastic resources when it comes to making book suggestions.
Is it the kids in your household that don’t like story time? If this is your family, have a think about how you could make story time more enjoyable. It could be as easy as using funny voices when you read. If your child loves dressing up, you could try encouraging him/her to choose an outfit that suits the theme of your chosen story and wear it while you read. Or perhaps you could find a movie your child enjoys that is based on a book and then read that book during story time. And don’t limit yourself to fiction. Some children are more keen on non-fiction and you might find that reading aloud non-fiction books about your child’s favourite topics is a winning strategy.
Is story time traumatic because the kids are too tired and grumpy to enjoy it? If this is you, don’t limit story time to just prior to bedtime. Try reading out loud while you all eat breakfast or while dinner is cooking. Finding the right times to read for your family makes a big difference to everyone’s experience so keep trying different times until you find one that works.
Swap some tv and social media time for reading time
Do you ever find yourself watching boring tv shows simply because that’s what you normally do at that time of day but there’s no longer anything interesting scheduled? If this is you, turn off the tv, choose a book you would love to read to your child/children and then go and read it to them. Sitting down with your kids and enjoying a story together is just as relaxing as watching tv but you’ll all get so much more out of it.
Similarly, many of us find ourselves wasting hours a week browsing social media for no real reason. If this is you, why not make a conscious effort to pick up a book to read out loud to your kids whenever you find yourself checking your social media feed.
Sometimes our busy lives are made busier than they need to be because we waste time doing things just to relax or because that’s our normal routine. Are there other things in your normal routine that you could swap for reading time as well?
Read everyday written material
A fantastic way of incorporating more shared reading into everyday routines is to read random, everyday written material out loud to your children. For example, if you’re cooking a meal or baking some snacks, read out the recipe you’re following; when you go for a walk or drive, read out the street signs on your route; when grocery shopping, read out your shopping list and the labels of items you’re comparing and those that you select; when you put together new toys, read out the instructions.
These sorts of things may seem mundane but reading them out loud can allow you to substantially increase the number of words you read out loud without taking any time out of your schedule or forcing a fidgety child to sit still long enough to get through a whole story. It’s also a great way to help children learn more about the world around them and expose them to words they might otherwise never hear read out loud (thus avoiding the embarrassment associated with not connecting a known word with the way it’s written).
While it’s not the most ideal way to increase the amount of material that is read out loud to your children, audiobooks can have a place in any family’s shared reading routine. For instance, audiobooks are great in the car, especially if your regular commute takes up a decent amount of time. Your children may not have the opportunity to look at the words while they’re being read (or they might if they don’t get travel sick and you have access to print versions of your chosen audiobooks) but you can’t read out loud to them when you’re driving and listening to audiobooks may be more educational and enjoyable than listening to the radio or music (especially if the family don’t share the same music tastes). The same is true of travel on public transport. You could, of course, choose to read books and other written material out loud on public transport but listening to audiobooks avoids disturbances to other passengers and gives you more privacy. It’s also a great alternative for those who get travel sick when reading. To ensure the reading experience is still shared, you could share headphones, invest in a system that enables you to plug multiple sets of headphones into the same device, or each listen to the same book on different devices.
To increase the benefits your child gets from this form of shared reading, especially for older children, you might consider listening to audiobooks on the initial leg of a journey and then discuss what you heard on the return journey.
Audiobooks can also be useful at times when your children could be reading but you can’t read out loud to them. Examples include when you’re cleaning and doing the washing. If you’re able to listen along too, it makes these chores more enjoyable.
Of course, audiobooks can be quite expensive so at this point, it is worth noting that you don’t have to invest in a large library of audiobooks to make this work. Many libraries offer options for borrowing audiobooks or you might find a membership borrowing service that is more cost-effective than purchasing audiobooks.
Do you find your household always struggles to get going on time in the morning? If this is you, you might find you can save time by packing lunches, making breakfast and laying out clothes the night before. Doing so can help you all get out the door on time in the morning and open up time for you to read out loud to your children in the absence of the usual chaos.
Similarly, you might find you can save a bit of time each day by organising a special homework spot for your school-aged children. Kit it out with all the things your kids need to do their homework and pop a snack and a drink there every day. That way the little Rugrats don’t have any excuse to procrastinate when they get home and they’ll have some brain fuel to help them power through more efficiently. If your children love story time, let them know that the more efficiently they do their homework (without rushing through it), the more time there will be for a post homework story. Alternatively, if your kids are too worn out to do homework when they first arrive home, you could read to them then while they unwind and then their study spot will be ready for them when you’re done.
Some people find they can also save time by organising other areas of their life. For instance, you might find economies of scale that save time by cooking the week’s dinners on the weekend. Or you might try cooking larger serves of each dinner and use the leftovers for lunch thus saving time preparing separate lunches. Maybe you could sort and fold/iron clothes while you watch your favourite tv shows. Maybe you could save time on your grocery shopping by filling your shopping list as you use items and/or shopping online.
You might also find you can be better organised when it comes to completing ad-hoc tasks or tasks that you don’t have to do very often. For instance, many of us could benefit from a better filing/recording system for receipts and expenses that could save hours at tax time. Similarly, some of us waste time doing Christmas shopping at the busiest time of the season. Can you plan to complete your Christmas shopping before the shops get really busy and use the time you save to read out loud to your kids?
These are just six things you might be able to do to incorporate more shared reading into your family’s routine. If you sit down and think about it, I’m sure you can think of more ways that your family can incorporate more shared reading into the everyday routine. If you think of something I haven’t mentioned here, why not share it in the comments so others can benefit from your great idea.