I knew before I had kids that I couldn’t expect them all to be readers just because I read. I’ve seen in my own family how everyone is their own person, you can build a strong foundation but it’s everyone’s choice to make for themselves. But I still wasn’t quite prepared for how hard it was to incorporate books into parenting.
While everyone else had pictures of their infants flipping pages in board books and lovingly munching on the corners, my baby wouldn’t look at a book. I followed all the suggestions for how to read to your baby, but it just wasn’t happening. He hated it. I hated it. It was a bust.
Things started to change when Graham was 1 or 2. That was when we had the whole year of one book, Thumper’s Fluffy Tail, a real riveting read that I had completely memorized, not just the words but the pauses before I turned the page so Graham could rub the textured parts. Everything had to be just so or Graham wailed in protest.
But we perservered. We pushed through. It took years of work, finding the right books, and then having to start over somewhat once we added Tessa to the mix. But even if reading doesn’t get off to a great start in your house, there’s still hope.
As Graham’s reading has progressed we’ve changed our rituals to accommodate everyone’s needs. I know a lot of other families are in a similar situation, with one or more older readers able to read on their own, with younger kids who can’t read yet. We’re making it work and I have a few tips on getting reading time to work for you even when you have kids of different age levels.
Something for Everyone
We all take part in reading time, but everyone has their own role to play. Graham and Tessa each pick out a book of their own and there’s also our regular chapter book on top of that. Everyone has a part of the reading that’s just for them, but they’re also able to enjoy everything else.
Practice for Early Readers
Graham is now in first grade and is supposed to read on his own for 20 minutes a day. We work that into our bedtime routine. He reads picture books sometimes, but most of the time he’s reading early reader books with short chapters. We’re working our way through Arnold Lobel’s entire bibliography along with anything else that catches Graham’s fancy as we go.
Have Structure, But Be Flexible
We usually start with Graham reading, then Tessa gets her book, then we finish with the chapter book. But if one is in a groove or the other is really excited, we can always mix it up. We always have our routine to fall back on, but when people are extra antsy that may mean less reading (or it may mean more, since reading is right before bed at our house and it also helps to serve as calm-down time). If the story’s really good, we can always add another chapter or another book.
The structure makes it much easier for me to transition us into reading time without stress or anxiety. I don’t have time to plan fun reading activities or curate themes in our reading. I just want us to have this time together and to enjoy the stories.
If Tessa is just not feeling it, which happens some days, we still have enough rules set up that she knows to be quiet and let Graham listen and concentrate. And every now and then if Graham really doesn’t want to read, I give him a pass. (In the picture above, Tessa is doing her own thing while Graham does his reading. Totally cool.)
Be Patient with Chapter Books
I’ve talked to other parents who find it difficult to begin the process of reading a chapter book. And it does require everybody to adjust a little. Kids are used to pictures and used to something shorter and more engaging, so you have to give them plenty of time to adjust. We started with chapter books that are heavy on pictures (our first was My Father’s Dragon, which felt a lot like a long picture book) and if a chapter is particularly long we’ll break it up.
If you find that the kids are fidgety, don’t worry. Most adults I know can’t focus on an audiobook and that’s basically what you’re asking your kids to do when you read a chapter book aloud. Graham tends to stay close by, though sometimes he’ll wander a bit or fidget. Tessa usually pulls out toys and plays while we read the chapter book. But no one complains, in fact when I had to skip it when I was sick and lost my voice, everyone was pretty sad.
Let Emerging Readers “Read”
Graham has been reading to us for a few months now, and Tessa has finally decided it’s time for her to “read,” too. She usually does this by choosing one of a few books that are pretty low on words. She’ll either have me read it and then repeat the words or she’ll “read” it by herself. I let her go and don’t tell her what the book actually says, she remembers it pretty well and Graham pipes in sometimes to help. Her favorite book for this right now is I Want My Hat Back, which is short, repetitive, and silly. Perfect for a 3-year-old.
Older Kids Still Enjoy Picture Books
Graham still loves picture books aimed at kids much younger than he is. He loves all kinds of books, so we’ll be keeping picture books in rotation for a long time to come. He gets to listen to me read, read on his own, and then have the full interactive experience of reading a picture book over my shoulder and taking in the reading and the visual story. It’s all slightly different skillsets and it helps him be able to follow along and see new words in a low-pressure situation.
Add New Books to the Mix
There tends to be a lot of repetition when we’re reading a chapter book for a couple weeks or the same picture book over and over again. So we make regular library trips and I try to pick out a new book to add to our home library every so often.
Speaking of new books, we got a bundle from Scholastic to incorporate into our reading and I have to admit, I was impressed with their choices.
Peek-a-Boo Farm is an animal identification board book with a flap to pull to reveal the animal. Yes, Graham is 6, but he still enjoys these. And Tessa is in school now, but she enjoys the participation element. The simple formula also means she can “read” it to herself while she lays in bed.
Where’s Walrus and Penguin? is one of those wordless stories that’s great for a wide age range. Tessa can “read,” Graham can comment on what’s happening, both kids really enjoyed the hide-and-seek game of the story. (I’m sure my kids aren’t the only ones who love a book where they see something the characters don’t.)
Friendshape is probably my favorite, great message, witty illustrations, a really fun elementary shapes book that does something different.
If You’re a Robot and You Know It is the one they won’t put down, as is always the case for a pop-up book with tabs to pull. My kids ADORE tabs, it’s kind of a problem.
Zen Socks is a complex story with gorgeous illustrations that’s a nice addition for families talking about mindfulness.
I know looking for books for kids can be overwhelming, so many choices, so many authors, and that’s where Scholastic’s new site The Story Starts Here comes in. Whether you’re a parent, a friend, a teacher, or a librarian looking for books for every age group, you can find great recommendations. Plus downloadables and videos that tie in to the stories.
I am a big fan of doing books for Christmas, birthday, Chanukah, you name it, I think it’s a great time for books. And if you’re gifting for someone else, you know their parents will be much happier if you give them a book than one of those really loud and obnoxious toys. So head on over and take a look.
Thanks to Scholastic for sponsoring this post. As I’m sure you can imagine I am pretty thrilled to be working with them. Yay reading!