Posted: Feb 10, 2014 9:00 AM
It may feel unnatural to pick up the book you're devouring after the kids go to bed in the middle of the day, but setting aside family reading time can help develop literacy. Kids who see their parents read will begin to understand reading isn't just a children's activity and will begin to develop a lifelong relationship with books.

The joy of reading with children

They climb into my lap with books daily, even on the days when everything seems to be going wrong and even though their lengthening limbs mean two of them don't fit comfortably on anyone's lap anymore. We're no longer thumbing through Sandra Boynton or many of our dog-eared favorites, but both of my kids love the routine of reading — the rhythm of the words, talking about what might happen next, finding clues in the pictures on the covers or the pages.

They should see us read

Even with the amount of reading we do each day, I found that almost all of my own reading was done after I tucked them into their beds at night. They settle under their covers, usually asking for a low light to be left on so they can read themselves to sleep — even though most of their reading is still done from memory or imagination. I'd settle onto the couch and pick up one of my books, and rarely did those two worlds collide. When we started reading chapter books together, the kids were confused as to why there weren't more pictures — I realized at that moment that we'd never really discussed how my books were written compared to the picture-heavy books they were accustomed to seeing.

Incorporate family reading time into your day

I'd spent so much time focusing on reading to my kids in an effort to develop "lifelong readers" that I'd never really given them a glimpse at the role reading has in my own life. If I want them to love books for their whole lives, they should see me — and other adults in their lives — reading on the same regular basis as I encourage them to read.

Tips for family reading time

Reading with children can be as simple as sitting on the couch with a book in everyone's hands. However, for the first few family reading sessions, simplicity might not work the way you imagine. Kids who are used to reading being an interactive activity may balk at the quiet time. Putting together a routine for group reading time can make the idea seem more like an activity than a forced, quiet break in their play.

  • Set up a cozy location for reading, whether it involves extra pillows, blankets or favorite stuffed animals.
  • Read with a timer, lengthening the reading time periodically. Be sure kids see you bookmark your place in your book so they begin to understand that an adult novel isn't finished in the same time frame as a picture book.
  • Remind children about the goal of family reading time — to read on their own for a short amount of time while adults read on their own. If your children aren't reading on their own, talk about making a story from the pictures in the books.

Activities to lengthen short attention spans

No matter how much you encourage young children to read through their own books, there will be days they are more interested in anything but the pages in front of them. Obviously family reading time doesn't have to be an inflexible block of your day, but it can help to have post-reading activities on hand — especially if you have more than one child, because it's inevitable that one will be done before the other.

  • Keep blank paper and crayons nearby and encourage kids to draw about what happened in their book or what they think might happen next.
  • Invest in a few books on CD that are only used during family reading time and let children listen while flipping through their books.
  • At the end of the reading period, ask questions about what the kids read, even pre-readers. Answer questions they may have about your books.

The Bottom line^ Developing readers happens in so many ways, and every time children interact with books, they take a step toward lifelong reading skills. Showing them your love of reading is another step on their reading journeys — and one that lets you have a few quiet moments to fall into your favorite books each day.

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