Family Reading Time

January 9, 2016

A few weeks ago I had a good friend ask me about how our family finds time for reading.  This was a great question!  I don’t think we are experts, but I can share with you how and what works for our family!

First I have to back up a little.  Reading has always been important to me.  I remember in 6th grade my teacher issued a reading challenge and we had markers that moved around the top of the room wall with how many books we read.  I vividly remember watching those markers so close – and making sure mine was in the lead.  (Maybe I have some competitive problems too?)

When I went to the hospital for a test when I was pregnant with our first baby and they told me I couldn’t go home, that I would be admitted and have the baby that night, I was totally mad – because I had library books that I wanted to return and exchange for different ones in my car!

All that being said, I have to admit, our oldest has always struggled with reading.  I have tried since day one to instill a love for reading in him, and I think it’s there.  He loves books.  But reading is hard for him.  It always has been.  I have a lot of guilt about this, I’ve spent so many hours thinking it’s all my fault and I have a lot of ideas why it’s hard for him, but it’s really not important.  He does the best he can. We have tried to help where we can.  He knows that.  He loves reading and is always trying to read another book.  Just this morning he was SO mad at me because it was time to leave for school and he had to put down the book he was reading.

I know part of the reason that we’ve developed so many habits around reading as a family come down to him.  He loves listening to us read aloud.  In kindergarten and first grade we filled our nights with Geronimo Stilton, Junie B. Jones, Box Car Children, and The Magic Tree House. His classmates were beginning to read those chapter books, and although he wasn’t at that point yet, he didn’t want to be left out.  When he was in 2nd grade  he really wanted to read Harry Potter because he said a classmate was (I’m really not sure what classmate was reading Harry Potter in second grade) but we fell for it.  I started re-reading aloud the first book and then my husband  (who had never read the series) got hooked too and before we knew it the whole family fell in love with the magical world of Hogwarts.  And reading aloud.

Reading Harry Potter in 2012
Reading Harry Potter together in 2012

So, I’ve been thinking about our family and our reading habits since my friend asked me that question.  And I’ve come up with 3 things that we do to make time for reading.

1. Take advantage of pockets of time

This is a HUGE one for us.  With 5 kids someone is always running here or there or busy with different activities. We are big fans of books on tape when we go on vacations.  I’ve also been known to read while my husband drives.
The two B’s are big ones for us….breakfast and bedtime.

Breakfast is a great time to take advantage of.  Everyone is sitting at the table and everyone is usually quite. And hopefully not awake enough to fight yet.  For us, breakfast time is a perfect time for reading scriptures together.  Now that the kids are older they can read some on their own, but sometimes one of us just reads aloud to them.  Sometimes we work on memorizing a certain scripture or Article of Faith instead of just reading.  We are not always perfect at this, but I’m a big believer that breakfast time is a HUGE time to take advantage of.

Bedtime is another HUGE winner for us when it comes to reading.  I think it is for most families.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched my 3 boys go from wild and crazy to calm and ready to sleep because we have a book that they want to sit and listen too.  A good book can be a great reward for them too – get their chores done, get their homework done, clean their room – anything for one more chapter in a good book.  I’m not going to lie.  I’ll be honest, bedtime and reading did get a little trickier as we added more littles and babies to our family.  I remember so many nights I spend putting kids to bed on my own while my husband was in residency.  For us, this consisted of me doing the bedtime routine for the two younger babies (who were 17 months apart) and mentally letting go of that perfect bedtime magic number for my older two.  They could play quietly in their room while I took care of the babies and then I would “reward” them for being so good and quiet by reading to them a chapter or two.  I don’t always think you should use reading as  a “reward” mainly because I don’t really feel good about taking away reading time if it doesn’t work out. It’s a fine balance and sometimes so tricky to call.

Now that our youngest is 3 and our oldest is almost 12, we still read at bedtime.  Most of the time the 3 and 5 year old want to be included, even though they aren’t super interested in the book.  But we tuck them in and say goodnight and then read.  And they fall asleep listing to the story.  The season of life we are in right now is a little bit easier for us to read at bedtime as well.  My husband is home more and he can take the older kids to a different room and read to them, while I read a different picture book to the littles and put them to bed.  I never could have done that 4 years ago.  It’s all about finding what works for you in what season you are in!

reading in car

2. It’s all about the book

(are you singing the song?  it’s all about the book, bout that book?” haha!)
sorry….moving on…

This one is maybe the most important!  And you’ll know when you know.  A good book really sucks you in and can be amazing for your kids!  Once you find a good book you’ll find time to read it.  We’ve read plenty of books over the years aloud with our kids.  Some they beg us to read any chance we have – and some, we have to really have to work at getting them to listen to. and it works both ways – my husband spend so many years reading and studyig for medical school and never read a book for enjoyment.  Until he heard me reading Harry Potter to the kids.  And then it’s taken off from there.  Reading aloud has really become his thing he does with the kids. And he really enjoys it. (And I really think there is something HUGE to be said about a dad taking time to read aloud)….but like I said – you will know, when you know.

My boys really love fantasy books, so I know our list and references are not for everyone, but some of our favorites have been:
The Magic Tree House series
Geronimo Stilton
Junie B. Jones
The Boxcar Children
Harry Potter
Fable Haven
The Narnia Series
The Hobbit

With our kids there is always an advantage if we can find a book that has a good movie too. Harry Potter, Narnia, or The Hobbit.  We did try Percy Jackson, but they weren’t really into the book and never really loved the movie….which just shows us you never know, because I thought they would love Percy too!


3.  Make reading accessible!  ​

This is SO easy and doesn’t have to be expensive.  We have moved a lot because of my husband’s schooling and rotations and residency..and each place we have lived one of the first things we have done is find the local library.  Sometimes we do this before we even are all done unpacking! I have loved seeing different libraries across the country as we have moved.  There are things we have loved about them all. The library is always such a great FREE resource!  We love to visit and the kids LOVE to check out as many books as they want. The library is one place that I really never tell my kids no.  I rarely put a limit on how many books they can check out – although sometimes I will limit them to however many books they can carry…because with five kids my library bag can get pretty heavy!Another way we have recently discovered is reading on kindle fires.  I have owned a kindle for a few years, but my older boys saved money this past year and bought their own.  When black Friday came around we were able to snag a couple more kindle fires for the younger kids. Now everyone that can read has a kindle to read on….and there are so many free (or super cheap) books for every reading level.  Another HUGE advantage that we have seen from the kindles are that they can read the story to you – this is amazing to have for our oldest.  He can read books that he might not normally and read along as the kindle reads it to him.  This might seem really silly, but anther way I always try to keep books accessible is that I try to always keep a picture book or two in the car.  Usually these are cheaper paperback one in case it gets ruined…because with 5 kids my car is never clean! Paperback books are easy to pick up at second hand stores – and we love Chick-fil-A because they almost always have a book instead of a toy! There always seems to be time when we are stuck sitting in the car waiting for kids at school or at activities.  Having a book to hand back  or to read to bored kids or toddlers has saved me so many times!

And last, – but not least – really making it a priority.  It takes time to form a habit and one you are hooked you won’t be able to turn back.

As a sidenote, when my oldest was a toddler I did a lot of reading about reading. Below are some of my favorite books that I highly recommend.  If you are thinking about making reading aloud to your kids a priority in 2016, these are some really great reference tools.  They should be in any family library and I have learned so much from them. (The Teach Your Child to Read book isn’t really about reading aloud, but a tool we used with our kids when they were preschoolers and I loved it!)

The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, by Siegfried Engelmann , Phyllis Haddox , and  Elaine Bruner

Reading Magic, by Mem Fox

I don’t think anything that I’ve shared is new or ground breaking, but it’s what works for us.  I would love to hear your thoughts and comments…​Does your family make time for reading?How does that happen at your house?Is reading to your kids a goal this year?What are some of your favorite read aloud books you’ve enjoyed together as a family?

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