Finding Time to Read to Your Kids–A Challenge!
All right, so you’ve heard that you should read aloud to your kids fifteen minutes everyday. You’ve heard from teachers and pediatricians and politicians and the so-called “educational experts” that it is the best thing you can do ensure your child’s success in reading and school. But who are they trying to kid with this fifteen minutes a day deal? It takes a heck of a lot more time than fifteen minutes a day!
First, if you are going to read books, you’ve got to have books to read. And that means getting everyone dressed, then driving to the library through rain, sun, sleet, hail, or snow, because at ten to twenty dollars a pop you’re probably not going to have a pile of kid’s books on your shelf at home. And a trip to the library is going to take at least a half hour and then you have to return the books, and of course one book will be lost, and you will be late getting it back. Then you will be penalized with late fees, all of which takes even more time.
And, you have not one child, but three, all different ages, all different temperaments, all different interests. Do you read different books to each child individually? That adds up to 45 minutes a day. And how do you know what book to read to each one? Do you read to all three at once? What if your three year old gets up and walks away in the middle of the story? And what if the baby starts crying? And what if your eight year old doesn’t want to read “baby books” any more? And what if you’ve been working all day and you’re so bone tired that you can’t even keep your eyelids open to read?
I know. I understand. I’ve been there, too, with three kids, two jobs, and a husband whose work requires him to travel extensively. So here’s the bad news. The best thing you can do to help your child succeed in reading and in school is to read aloud to them, period, the end. Why? Because you, taking the time to read aloud to your children, especially when you are so very busy, shows them that you think words and reading and books are very important. Reading aloud to children enriches their vocabularies, models reading behaviors, expands their emotional expression, and introduces them to story, history, folklore, and culture, enlarging their world. They love you. When you take the time to read to your kids, their love for you spills over. It encompasses all that you do together, so they will automatically begin to love books and language, too. And kids who love books and language definitely have a leg up on everyone else when they start school.
Here’s the good news. Forget the fifteen minutes a day thing. Think about reading time in terms of a week’s length of time instead of a day. When my kids were little I worried about their eating habits. Were they getting representative foods from all five food groups everyday? No. Sometimes my oldest would only eat chicken nuggets, peas, and white bread slathered with peanut butter for days. Eventually, I stopped worrying about daily food intake and began to think of my childrens’ nutrition in terms of a week’s time. It was only then that I realized that within a week they ate from a variety of food groups and were getting all the nutritional requirements their bodies needed to grow.
Think of your children’s brain growth in weekly terms, too. Think in terms of providing your kids with language enriching experiences. For example; if you don’t have the time to read a book aloud, tell them a story while you do the dinner dishes. The story can be as simple as you recalling a childhood memory, like the time your cat Henry gave birth to kittens under your parents’ bed. Or, borrow a few book and tape sets from the library and when you are tired, lie down on your bed with your kids and listen to the tape together. While, driving back and forth doing errands play alphabet and word games in the car, or listen to great songs on a tape or a CD and sing along with the lyrics. Have your children “read” you a well loved book that they have actually memorized. Then, when you have the chance during the week to read for more than fifteen minutes, do so. It will compensate for the days you couldn’t find time to read.
Be honest with yourself. Is it really a great imposition to get to the library? Do you find the time to go to the mall? Do you find the time to rent videos or DVDs? Videos have to be returned, too. If you really don’t have the time to go to the library, check out your library’s services. Many libraries now have bookmobiles which bring the books to you. And for returns, libraries can often arrange book pick-ups or they can renew your books over the phone.
Resolve this year to read aloud more to your children. Talk with them. Discuss their day and yours. Tell them more stories, made-up and real. Sing them more songs. It is time spent that you will never regret.
© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance