I need no encouragement to read aloud with my kids.
Parenting and literacy experts recommend it. Research supports it. Government programs like the Victorian Government’s Baby Bundle are based on it.
But I need not look that far.
Reading aloud with my kids creates calm after a big day. It gives us an opportunity to snuggle, bond and have fun together.
With a book in hand we’re no longer caregiver and dependent, rather joint adventurers on a journey that unfolds page by page.
The academic benefits of reading aloud to our children have also been demonstrated to me first hand. My eldest son’s reading skills advanced significantly after a holiday during which we (and not he!) read aloud chapter books most nights. Reading aloud also builds language and knowledge about the world.
But sometimes it’s hard. And, lately it’s been really hard.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Miss Gubby (22 months) loves books but likes to read them back to front or by skipping a few pages in the middle. She’ll often turn the page when I’m mid-sentence and even abruptly discard the book.
- Said toddler has also been interrupting read aloud sessions with her older brothers. The boys have even said “c’mon mum” or “keep reading mum” when Miss Gubby is in the middle of a deafening meltdown! But even if I were to persist, my heart would not be in it. She is tired by that time and wants my full attention.
- Finding the time. We don’t have a jam packed and structured after-school program and no compulsory homework. Nonetheless, by the time the kids play and the necessities (snacks, readers, showers, dinner etc) are done, there is little time left before bed. Stories can then feel rushed and the quality of the session, with less expression, fun and interaction, can be compromised.
We’ve faced other difficulties in the past too. One of our kids as a toddler went through a phase of throwing and ripping books. This seemed to occur more often at bedtime, when he was probably tired. Other kids can show little interest in reading and books.
I’m conscious that, as Mem Fox says in her book Reading Magic (Pan MacMillian, 2001, p 52), “[l]osing the joy means losing the usefulness.” She also says (p9) that “Reading aloud shouldn’t be thought of as a grimacing This-is-Good-for-Your-Child event for mothers and fathers.”
In this blog I share some ideas that may help address the problems identified above. Mention must be made of my friends who submitted some excellent ideas for developing a love of reading and books on one of my recent Instagram and Facebook posts. Most of these ideas have found their way into the below!
Hurdle 1: Toddler at the wheel and we’re “reading” back to front and upside down
- accepting that the story won’t flow and being prepared to go off script, knowing that the child will still benefit from the experience:
- read the pages in whatever order your child turns them
- read the pages your child does pause on and, if they pause for some time, talk about the pictures too
- interact with the text and the illustrations and ask questions / talk
- reading books that don’t have a story (like first word books such as “101 First Words” published by Hinkler or “I Spy With My Little Eye: First Words” by Jeannette Rowe)
Hurdle 2: The multi-child juggle
- welcoming interruptions so you engage all of your children in the read aloud experience. If pictures engage your less interested child, point them out as you read along and make eye contact to try to engage them in the story
- giving your less interested child another activity to do in the vicinity of where you are reading so that they can move between the book and the activity and still hear the story being read (this tends to work for us sometimes!)
- staggering bedtimes so you can read to one or a couple of children separately
- putting each child into bed with a book to read or flip through independently and then visit each one separately for a one-on-one read aloud session (note may not work when you have a toddler!)
- reading to a child/ren when the other one is in the shower or bath (in the bathroom if supervision is required!)
- staging simultaneous read aloud sessions if you and your partner are both home (or a grandparent, other adult or older child is home)
Hurdle 3: Finding the time
- to keep reading aloud part of your regular routine and grabbing extra opportunities to plug the gaps where the regular reading time doesn’t work, by:
- keeping a book in your bag for trips to the doctor or to read while commuting or while waiting for breakfast or coffee etc
- making age appropriate books accessible to your kids at home (eg on a low shelf or in your toy basket) so they can help themselves
- reading with your child if they ask you to at any time (where possible)
- take books on holidays with you
- take advantage of times when you have visitors that can read with your children
Hurdle 4: The book throwing toddler
- choosing books that are more robust (board books, fabric books)
- to accept that some books are going to get broken and tatty
- keeping your very special books and borrowed books up and away and only bring them out when you think your child is less likely to rip them
- reading at different times of the day (perhaps when your child is less tired)
Hurdle 5: The child with less interest in reading and books
- going to story time at your local library or local bookstore. Often a story time program will involve craft activities, broadening the scope of what might appeal to your child
- allowing your child to choose the books they want to read without imposing your own judgment. Mem Fox in Reading Magic suggests not all books are good for kids (and may actually put kids off books and reading altogether), but also says “[a]ny book that a child owns and loves is a good book for them.” (p121)
- modelling a love of reading and books yourself by reading in front of your children
- reading in a different voice, singing some of the story or even acting it out
- finding books that extend the experiences the child is having at home (eg read “Dear Zoo” by Rod Campbell after a trip to the zoo)
- listening to audio books, which are not a substitute for reading aloud, but may build an interest in books and stories
I think it’s important to acknowledge that on some days reading aloud may just be too hard, like:
- days when there may not be enough hours in the day
- days when your toddler may not settle into their bedtime routine, throwing out your reading time with your older kids
On those days, be kind to yourself and try again the next day!
PS: Have you experienced other difficulties reading aloud? Do you have other suggestions? I’d love to hear them!