As a child, I loved to read. When my parents punished me, they would take away my books for extended periods, hoping to force me outside to play and socialize. It didn’t work: I would read cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, clothes tags, and books I had hidden under the towels in the bathroom. When I was pregnant with my first child, I fantasized about sharing all these wonderful books with my children. They would sit perfectly still, gazing at me with rapture in their eyes as the stories unfolded.
Parent disillusionment #1: I hated reading aloud. Followed quickly by parent disillusionment #2: Why don’t they sit still!?
After stubbornly battling my energetic oldest child for years, I learned the truths and tricks of reading to young children. And I learned how to accommodate my own dislike of using my voice for extended periods.
Truth #1 – Many kids hear and retain better when their hands are busy.
This truth really bothered me, because it just didn’t seem possible. How could they listen if they were focusing on something else? Then I realized that some of my favorite times to listen to audio books were when I was busy. While driving in the car, while doing light housework. I tested this idea several times, checking comprehension while doing various tasks. It turned out to be especially effective with my oldest and youngest children, who are the most creative and energetic.
Below are some activities we now enjoy while reading aloud. You will need to have practiced these activities in the past and be proficient enough that they are somewhat mindless and don’t need interruptions for help.
Doodling – Random drawing, or more purposeful doodling
Friendship or Paracord bracelets (my boys love these)
Knitting or Crocheting
Cross-stitch or Embroidery
Play with a favorite toy (trains, cars, etc)
An alternative is to catch your children at their naturally quiet times of the day (morning, afternoon, or night) and read at those times.
Truth #2 – You don’t have to like reading aloud to do it!
I just don’t like using my voice. I dislike talking, I’m not chatty, and I really hate saying the same thing twice. My throat can get scratchy from one chapter of a children’s book! Still, I firmly believe in reading aloud. I know that children’s decoding doesn’t catch up to their comprehension until the young teens, so I like to always be challenging their minds with luscious, rich stories. Here’s how I do it (with lots of hot drinks and help from technology!):
Child #4 is a early bird. He can wake up as early as 5:00am, so many days I will make my coffee and sit and read with him. He prefers to practice his own reading at bedtime.
Child #3 loves long bedtime stories with me. I drink a cup of peppermint tea while she gets ready for bed, and we cuddle up and read a long chapter or two.
Child #2 is currently on a friendship bracelet jag. Just after lunch he likes to pull out his supplies and listen to a book. He does the rest of his reading on his own.
Child #1 is a teenage night owl and often struggles to go to sleep. We have built an audio book library on her kindle with Audible.com, so she usually listens to books for an hour or two at night while going to sleep.
In addition to these individual reading times, I also try to read aloud (with the three youngest) during mid-morning while they are doing an activity. By spreading out the reading times across the day, we have been able to build memories, and make our way through a long list of books!