The first present I bought my Georgia Ruth before she was born was a lovely copy of Winnie-The-Pooh. I sat in the new rocker in her room staring at the newly washed baby clothes reading to my belly and knowing that this structured beautiful way of living would be my forever parenting style.
Ah, to be young and blissfully unaware.
Fast forward to 11 years later. Our bedtime routine of reading aloud to each child had become somewhat of a burden. Reading for 20 minutes, plus conversations, plus lullabies times 3 kids of a wide span of ages was turning bedtime into an extremely long process that we weren’t able to keep up with. How could we continue reading aloud with our children AND enjoy it? And more importantly, how would I make sure all of those stories that had such a place in my childhood would find their way to my children’s hearts, too?
Almost a year ago, I looked to my good friend, Nikki who has 5 well-behaved children who all love reading on their own and being read to. There is no way each child had their own bedtime story and yet the conversations she would mention them having over a wide-array of literature was inspiring. How was she doing it?
Nikki directed me to a book by Sarah MacKenzie called The Read Aloud Family. The book dives into the numerous benefits of doing family read-alouds, how to do it, and what books to choose. By the time I was finished with it, I was completely on-board. WE WERE GOING TO BE THE GREATEST READ-ALOUD FAMILY OF ALL TIME.
The reality is we are an “okay-ish” read-aloud family, but it did give us a frame to start and the grace to not be perfect in our pursuit. We’ve made our way through some beautiful books this past year, and are looking forward to many more. We have a space to have family discussions, the kiddos are more peaceful before bed, our time is spent with more intention, and we are fostering the love of reading in our home.
Here are some of the things that have worked for us to continue to thrive with our family reading time.
Find your space.
We have tried read-alouds in multiple spaces in our home. It turns out, the family room isn’t actually the best place for us because everyone tends to move around a lot, and then there are scuffles over spots and who is touching who, etc. We like the dining room table most of the time, but find what works for your crew!
Keep their hands busy.
It isn’t realistic for most kids of any age to sit still and just listen for long periods of time. My 4 year old likes to do paint-with-water books and line up his action figures while listening. My girls (8 & 11) doodle and make friendship bracelets. Recently, we have been working on a large puzzle. Save some new coloring books and crayons just for your read-aloud time. Gathering together will have multiple reasons for joy!
Start small and make good choices.
Start with a beautiful picture book or something really funny in short spurts of time and build up. Starting with Lord of the Rings has the possibility of back-firing if the whole family isn’t ready for it. Wichita Mom’s Jenna Quentin has a stellar list of read-aloud books.
I search for the audiobooks to many of our read-alouds. This allows me the space to just be with and snuggle my kids while we listen together. They definitely get more out of it if I am still engaged with them and not just pressing play and going to get housework done, but it’s nice to change it up every so often!
Your first few days of reading aloud as a family may not go well. One kid may roll their eyes while another is rolling on the floor. It may seem pointless, but as your family falls into a routine, I promise you will see the benefits.