Sunday, October 4, 2009

How Do I Find The Time To Read With My Young Child?

Are you frustrated because you have great intentions but just can't seem to find time to read regularly with your child? You know it is important but it just seems to get squeezed out. You aren't alone.

Here are a few secrets to finding that time and making it rewarding for both you and your child:

1) think about the importance of reading with your children. It is when we reflect on where our time is going that we as adults most often get our priorities back on track. Reading aloud with children is the "single most important activity" to eventually build the skills necessary to be a good reader. It isn't worksheets; it isn't flashcards (who remembers favorites of those - do you?).

2) carve out time in 10-20 minute increments. Your schedule may not allow more or your child may need small doses so that he leaves with a pleasant taste in his mouth about the experience instead of a negative one because he was asked to sit still for too long.

If you don't read regularly with your child now, don't try to make it a daily thing right away. It's kind of like eating a healthier diet. Very few of us will completely change what we eat at one time. We work on it gradually, with goals, and slowly we change. That kind of change is more likely to become habit. Parents are the best ones to set this example, according to Johnny Appleseed.

If you read with your child, once or twice a week, add one day. Wherever you are, if you aren't reading every day with your children, bump it up a day.

3) recognize the reality that, with your schedule, you may not be able to have a story-time or reading time together every single night, especially during the weekedays with homework, extra activities, baths, dinner, etc. I'll share a secret with you. Research seems to indicate that families who read at least three times a week MINIMUM with their children have a greater impact than those that read less frequently. Am I telling you that so you will not try to read with them every day? No. But I am saying use that framework as a minimum goal. Look at #4 to see what to do on the days you legitimately can't find time.

4) When you cannot read with your child, read the world. While running errands in the car, there is always an opportunity to read. Our world is full of text - signs, billboards, maps, restaurant take-out menus, business banners or signs. At home there is junk mail, laundry labels on clothing, soccer schedules, notes and reminders on the refrigerator or calendar. Think about the grocery store and how much there is to read there (your list, labels and nutritional information, advertisements, etc.) Reading is Fundamental shares more ideas in their summer article but you can use these tips anytime to remind you . Show your child that reading is truly a tool for life.

These ideas ensure your child gets a daily dose of practice with reading but it fits into today's family schedules. The key is consistency.

5) Last, but not least: If your child is a beginning reader, that doesn't mean that your time together should always be your child practicing reading to you. There are two reasons to flip it around and read to him or her sometimes:

first, the books your child can read on his own with little or no help from you often contain "controlled vocabulary". That simply means that these books have been specifically written so that your child will mainly see words that she already knows. That's important for her practice so she becomes fluent (starts to put words into phrases and sentences rather than reading one word at a time). However, if you limit your child's reading to these controlled vocabulary (or leveled) books, you also limit his exposure to new vocabulary, which if that is all the diet of reading he has, can stunt his reading growth. Some of my favorite books about words (that will help you introduce your children to new words in a fun way are Maisey's Amazing Big Book of Words, Big, Bigger, Biggest, and any of Karma Wilson's picture books.

Secondly, if you are the one doing the reading, you can read books with higher levels of vocabulary (which will grow your child's listening vocabulary - the words she knows and understands when she hears them). That will connect later to his reading vocabulary (he'll recognize words more easily when he has them in his listening vocabulary already). Try sharing the chapter book, Charlotte's Web, a chapter or a partial chapter at a time. Give your child a crayon or pencil and a piece of paper and suggest that he draw a picture about the story since there are few pictures in this book.

You can also share books with more complex ideas and have great discussions over what is happening (or will happen) in the book. Even among picture books, there are many that are written beyond a beginning reading level such as Fancy Nancy's Favorite Fancy Words, The New Way Things Work, or The Librarian Who Measured the Earth. Reading these types of books with your child helps him/her with his understanding (comprehension). That can happen even before the child is a reader in the conventional sense. Don't fall into the trap of limiting what your child is exposed to or what you choose to read together. Let your child's interest be your guide.

Talk with your spouse, your best friend, your mom or dad about how you can find time in your busy day for reading with your child. Even a fellow co-worker may be struggling with the same challenges in this area as you. Reading together, sharing a book, can even be a stress-reliever for you and your child.

Please take a few minutes to share. Send a link to this blog along to a friend. Share with us in a comment how you make time for reading in your busy schedule in a comment on this blog. I'm sure others would benefit greatly from your additions to this post ( and I know I would love to hear from you!)


Terry Doherty said...

I love how you've put this together. It is empathetic with the "crush" parents feel, but offers some practical solutions, too. Wouldn't it be great if we could get grandparents, neighbors and/or babysitters to read with kids on a regular basis?

Your post raised a question: What about audio books? Can kids following along to a recorded book help?

Cathy Puett Miller said...

When there's nothing else there, sure. But the one of the greatest values of reading with a child is the back and forth conversation and thinking that goes on. In fact, recent research has indicated conversations have up to six multiples more impact than reading aloud to a child in the traditional "you sit and listen" stage. There was an article in a recent "The Reading Teacher" Journal from IRA on this subject.

Joyce Grant said...

Wonderful article. All of the research about how kids grow up to be great readers stresses that reading to your child every day (or as close as possible to every day) is the most important factor by far. If you don't do that, then you're facing a tougher battle. I'm going to link to this article on my blog

Unknown said...

This one's a keeper I'll hand to parents! Love to add two ideas: First, parents can always take books with them. There are the minutes here and there of waiting that can be passed with reading aloud. They "add up" without "adding" anything to the day!

Also continue reading aloud to children after they learn to read because it keeps reading fun. Adults can read to children the books that they are not yet able to read, helping to keep reading enjoyable (and not all work) and to keep them motivated (one day, I'll be able to read books like that).

The Passionate Librarian,