Build a Family Reading Culture Part III: Habits and Routines
If reading’s only function in my home was to help my children grow into more compassionate, empathetic, connected and thoughtful humans, I’d say that books were already doing more than their fair share. But, I’ll just be honest and say that reading (in all its amazing forms) has also become an important tool in my daily battle against “the screens”.
We aren’t a tech-free or even tech light family. However, like many parents, I’m hyper-aware of the way screen time can saturate into all aspects of family life. I do my best to limit my own screen time when possible and continue to set up boundaries for my kids and their use of screens.
In my family, I’ve found that establishing a few reading routines or habits has helped us cut down on screen time and build our family’s reading culture. Below, I want to share 4 reading routines that work for us:
1. End the Day With a Book
Let’s start with the most obvious. We read before bed. We do bedtime stories for our preschooler and our tween reads independently. We sometimes read together as a family (which I think is the preferred system), but with a seven-year age gap, we typically read separately. For the best and most comprehensive look at how a family can establish a read-aloud routine, check out The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon.
It’s not always easy or convenient, but we try to be consistent with this routine. It can be tricky on nights when only one parent is home, or when activities or events run late. If your children are very young and you're new to the idea of a bedtime reading routine, start by determining when the actual “bedtime” is. That is, the time that your child is actually in their bed with lights out (hopefully staying in bed, but let’s be honest). Then, work backward from that time factoring in reading, baths, teeth brushing, etc. You should land at a rough time that you’ll need to start your bedtime routine.
Give yourself a little grace on nights where it just isn’t going to happen, but work towards a goal of ending each day with reading.
2. Use Audiobooks for Road Trips and Longer Car Rides
This tip is so common in many parenting circles, that it surprises me sometimes that folks are suffering through family road trips without audiobooks and podcasts. Seriously, how do you do it? Audiobooks are like secret weapons that live in your local library ready to be deployed (for free) in the battle for road trip sanity.
Until recently, we’ve lived thousands and then hundreds of miles from our family. We’ve logged more miles in the car on our way to visit family than I care to remember. We’ve driven long distance with nursing babies, sick toddlers, cranky kids, and bored tweens. Having audiobooks that can capture the attention of some if not all of us has been key.
There are amazing stand-alonee stories that are great for family road trips and perfect for most ages (Stuart little, Miss. Piggle-Wiggle, Charlotte’s Web, etc). We tend to use road trips to work our way through a book series.
A few years ago when my youngest was still too little to pay attention to much of anything in the car, we listened to The Janitor’s Series by Tyler Whiteside. Last year we wrapped up the Spirit Animals series. This year, we decided to tackle a classic series (which I am ashamed to say I never read as a child). We are one book away from finishing the Chronicles of Narnia.
Of course, we still use tablets in the car when needed, but we aren’t dependent on them the way we might otherwise be if we weren’t listening to audiobooks.
3. Travel With a Book
For adults who love to read, traveling without a book (or two or three) seems unthinkable. Whether your pre-travel routines involves grabbing a thriller from the airport newsstand or hitting up your local library for the newest nonfiction hit, chances are you’re packing a book.
Why should it be any different for kids? For my oldest, making sure he has a book to read is as much a part of his packing list as a toothbrush. For my youngest, I choose a few books or pack whatever chapter book we are currently working through. As we’re walking out the door, I’m usually yelling to make sure everyone has a hat, water bottle, and a book.
Of course, not every vacation is conducive to leisure reading. The mere act of having a book at the ready is protection from overuse of screens during rainy days, delayed flights, and the many “hurry up and wait” scenarios that pop up during travel.
4. Use Reading Time to Transition from Screen Time
“It’s time for an electronics break” is a common refrain around here. This past summer vacation, I felt like I was constantly chasing someone off a screen. I’m guessing it’s the same for many of you. A friend of mine got so sick of yelling around the house for her kids to get off tablets, she just started shutting down the router and waiting for children to climb out of the woodwork.
Maybe you’ve noticed that when chased away from various screens, your kids will wander around a bit before settling in to play. Transitioning from screen time to another activity with reading functions as a reset.
When my kids take an “electronics break”, the first thing I’ll suggest is often reading. My youngest usually prefers to play with toys (which is great). But, my oldest will often turn to reading as a default when bored.
I’ve seen a lot of to-do lists for summer, weekends, mornings, etc. that list all the things a child must do before they use electronics. Readings usually on the list. That’s great. But, I like to think of electronics as the thing that’s sandwiched between reading, play and family time.
Hopefully, this list is helpful. I think each family has to figure out what role screens will play in their lives. It looks different for each of us and it looks different during different seasons of life. If we can turn more toward books as an option for filling in the hours of our day, it will help to keep reading top of mind.