Life gets crazy sometimes, and it can be hard to carve out time to read aloud to kids, but these simple ideas will help you fit in the reading time that you know is so important!
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I grew up on a steady diet of books. My childhood was filled with days spent carrying armfuls of books out of our local library, being mesmerized by the strange ocean creatures I encountered as I flipped through our National Geographic books, and listening to my mom read The Chronicles of Narnia as I snuggled in bed at night. Books were everywhere in my home.
I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I realize now what a wonderful gift my parents gave me by filling my life with books.
Numerous studies have shown that the simple habit of reading together has huge, long-lasting effects on an individual’s success and happiness.
Did you know that children who are read to at least three times a week by a family member are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading compared to children who are read to less than 3 times a week?
And higher reading scores are just the beginning.
There may not be a silver bullet in the world of parenting, but reading aloud is one simple thing we can do to give our kids a measurable advantage in life. Or, rather, a whole list of advantages…
Benefits of reading aloud to kids:
- Builds strong vocabulary: Books (even picture books) have a much higher rate of uncommon words than adult TV and regular conversation do (source). This means that when you read to your kids you are exposing them to new and interesting words that expand their vocabulary.
- Increases awareness and empathy: Books introduce kids to places, people, cultures, and problems that are different from the ones they experience day to day. As they observe these different perspectives, they develop empathy for other world views and become better critical thinkers.
- Encourages Imagination: As you read aloud to your kids–especially when reading chapter books without pictures–kids get lots of practice creating the story in their minds. Even books with pictures exercise children’s brains as they fill in the gaps between the still pictures and turn them into a “movie” in their imagination.
- Models fluency and expression in reading. When you read to you child, you model how to pause for punctuation, use voice inflection to communicate meaning, and bring the story to life through the way you read. Even if you don’t go all out with silly voices (although I highly recommend it!) your child learns to be a more fluent reader as they listen to you model those skills.
- Exposes kids to more complex & varied literature. In my experience, when I am reading to my kids, they are willing to listen to (and even enjoy) books that they would never choose themselves. So you don’t have to worry so much about them reading “on level” on their own all the time. Instead, focus fostering a love of reading and instroduce them to the more challenging literature you’d like them to read during your read-aloud time. Bonus tip: If you find a book that you think your child will really like, but he or she is hesitant, try reading the first chapter or two aloud, and then leave them hanging for a bit. You may be surprised to turn around and find your child curled up with the very book you just set down!
Why it’s important to STILL read aloud to kids who can read to themselves:
The majority of parents read to their young kids, which is great! However, according to the Scholastic Reading Report, reading aloud to kids peaks at age five. The older kids get, the less frequently parents read aloud to them. In fact, by age 12, only 7% of kids are still enjoying regular read-aloud time. Instead, parents tend to let kids read to themselves.
On the surface, it makes sense to let kids take over reading, but it’s a problem. Why?
Because mirroring a fall in parents reading aloud to kids, is a fall in kids’ overall enjoyment of reading and the frequency with which they read for fun. (Learn more about the “Decline by 9” here). In a nutshell, when we stop taking time to read aloud to kids, they stop reading as much. Even if your older kids love to read alone, they’ll still reap the benefits of increased vocabulary, stronger relationships, critical thinking, and more when reading with an adult.
So now what?
Alright, alright. So we’ve established that it’s important to read aloud (and that Scholastic report suggests that most of you are already nodding your heads). You want to make it happen. You want to give your child all the benefits that you know reading can bring them.
But how do we fit in more reading time when our lives are so busy?
Family life is full (to say the least), and especially as kids get older and get involved in more activities outside the home, it can be hard to carve out reading time. Still…
If something has to fall out of the wagon, reading together is NOT that thing.
Do me a favor…go back and read that last sentence one more time and let it really sink in.
Reading together is too important to let it get squeezed out by other activities. The good news? It’s really easier than you might think to fit in more reading time. Here are some ideas to increase your family’s reading time and make it part of your family’s culture.
6 simple ways to fit in more time to read aloud to kids
1. Make bedtime reading part of your family’s routine.
I know. It’s not a new idea. But let’s just start with the most obvious. Reading before bed is one of the easiest ways to add reading time into your family’s routine. It’s a great way to settle everyone down, get their busy bodies ready to sleep, and end the day with a positive interaction. Even long after you get rid of the rocking chair, keep reading together at night.
For me, reading to my kids at night is one of my favorite parts of motherhood. With my older two boys (6 & 8), we’ve graduated from picture books to chapter books. I love sharing my childhood favorites with them, and discovering new stories together. No matter how frustrating the day has been, I can end on a good note as we snuggle together and read. It’s a memory I will cherish once they’re all grown up and gone, and I hope they will, too.
2. Bring audiobooks in the car.
Whenever we go on road trips, I make it a point to download a good audiobook or two to listen to in the car. It’s a great alternative to screen time, and we love listening to all sorts of stories together. Here are some of our favorites that are great for young kids: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and (most recently) Fortunately, The Milk. If you have a LONG car ride, try Peter and the Starcatchers. For a shorter ride, try a podcast.
Related: 6 fabulous story podcasts for kids
3. Take books outside for a reading picnic.
When the weather is nice, I love taking a blanket, some snacks, and a stack of books outside to read. We don’t do this every day, but it’s a fun way to change things up and make reading time feel special. Sometimes my kids pile around me and look at the pictures, other times they listen while they dig in the sandbox or draw with sidewalk chalk. And with everything we’re learning about why kids need to spend more time outside, this one is a great two-for-one deal!
4. Read aloud to kids while they play.
Sometimes we mistakenly think that if our kids aren’t giving us their undivided attention, sitting quietly on the couch next to us, then the reading doesn’t “count.” In reality, giving kids quiet activities that occupy their hands (but not their minds) while you read can actually improve their comprehension…and increase their attention span. Playing with playdough, coloring, doing puzzles, and building with Legos are all great read-aloud activities.
Related: 9 tips for reading to a busy toddler
5. Make the most of waiting times.
Think about your regular routine. Are there times where you and one or more of your kids are waiting around for something? Perhaps you are waiting in the carpool pick-up line for older siblings, or waiting at the doctor’s office (why are they always running behind?), or waiting for someone to finish soccer practice or piano lessons. Kids tend to get carted around a lot…so let’s make use of that time! Keep some books in your car, your purse, or even a digital one on your phone that you can pull out and read together. And bonus…if they are looking at a book with you they are less likely to be licking the floor of the dance studio or throwing dirt as passersby (not that kids would ever do that…).
Bonus Tip: I have a friend whose family has a tradition of taking a new read-aloud book whenever they go on vacation. Whenever they are waiting for a flight, or in line for an attraction, or for food at a restaurant, she pulls out the book and reads. Magically, all the “waiting” moments (when kids tend to get crabby and parents tend to get frazzled) become story times that everyone looks forward to. Brilliant! I’m totally trying this one for our next trip.
6. Keep books visible and accessible.
You know how health experts always tell you to put your fruits and veggies right where you’ll see them every time you open the fridge? Why? Because research shows that you’re more likely to choose whatever is right in front of you. The same goes for books. When you create places in your home that invite reading, your kids (and you) are more likely to choose to read. So, try setting a few books on the coffee table and watch your children discover them. Or, put a basket of books by the couch. Put up some picture book display shelves or stash books in the seat back pockets of your car. You might be surprised by how such a simple thing will lead you to pick up those books more often.
And above all else, remember:
Something is better than nothing.
It’s okay if you don’t read together every. single. day. Keep your expectations of yourself and your family realistic.
It’s not about checking a box on a habit tracker or logging reading minutes (really, it’s not). It’s simply about looking for small moments of opportunity that add up over time to make reading an enjoyable part of your family culture.
And if you need some ideas for WHAT to read together, I’ve got you covered! Try any of these fabulous picture books:
- My absolute favorite children’s picture books of all time
- Best board books for toddlers
- 10 Laugh-out-loud funny children’s books
- Terrific dinosaur books for kids (that actually teach you about dinosaurs)
Now, it’s your turn. What are your favorite ways to fit in read aloud time with your kids? Tell me your tips in the comments below!