A most joyful and meaning-centered way to bring your family together is by reading together. Reading is in a very special way deeply social. We can get to know our children in new and exciting ways each and every time we come together as a reading family, raising super readers along the way.
Just twenty minutes a day of reading together can change your child’s life, and yours too. Here are five tips to forge those lifelong bonds and to help your child become a super reader, all at the same time.
1. Let your child lead the way.
Make book selection very personal to your child’s reading identity. Celebrate her passions and curiosities by selecting read alouds about subjects, places and people that she is wondering about or passionate about. Empower your child to try new genres and to learn more about a lifelong interest to become a true expert. Join with your child to “curate” a personalized reading basket, or create a file online to store favorite titles. Label the basket or file with your child’s name. Celebrate as your child becomes connected to favorite authors and create baskets and files to build knowledge about these authors.
2. Make talk count.
Be a “close listener” and ask your child to share her opinions, wonderings and feelings about the books you read aloud together. Ask open-ended questions such as: “What do you think will happen next?” “Why do you think the character did that?” “What is your opinion?” “How do you feel about what that character just said?” “What more do you want to know about this topic?” You can also talk about the illustrations of a book; invite conversation and wonderings about what your child is noticing about them. Celebrate your child also when she does not enjoy a book, so she can express what she does not like about it and to share why, and also to choose to stop reading a book together if she really does not like it. Super readers have strong perspectives about what they are reading and this is something to truly celebrate.
3. Make reading portable.
Read aloud together beyond bedtime. Take a pack of books on car rides or subway or bus commutes. Listen to audio recordings of great books. Pack a “LitKit” for a long trip, complete with a favorite book pack, earphones you specially reserve as your child’s “read aloud” earphones, and a little notebook or digital tablet for your child to record observations and make lists about what she is reading to share with you or other family members. Bring extended family together by doing a Skype or hangout online to welcome grandparents to a read aloud.
4. Celebrate mini-milestones.
Make your family’s reading experience a celebration. Track the minutes and types of readings you do together and celebrate when you reach goals (“We did 100 minutes of read alouds!”). Hang a chart on the refrigerator and as a “team” try to fill the card by reading aloud from lots of different genres together, filling in your accomplishments: poems, nonfiction articles, short stories, chapter books, comics and more. When your child starts to recognize names of authors and asks for more books by the same author; when your child requests a read aloud at multiple times in a day; when your child reads independently for two minutes longer than ever before; when your child reads aloud to a younger member of the family. By affirming these mini-milestones, you create a family culture of loving, supporting and giving.
5. Read together to reveal the mirrors and windows of life.
When I read Little Women with my daughters, we talked about which sister was a mirror for us. We each had a different feel for how one sister resonated with us. Katie was writerly Jo, Charlotte saw herself in mischievous Amy. This led us to many interesting conversations about identity and why a particular character resonates deeply. In another way, reading together as a family also helps us journey the world and others’ experiences while talking about and processing those experiences. When we wondered about what it was like to live on a little island, we read the book My Island by Frene Lessac. When we wanted to know how to face the biggest challenges with courage, we read the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. When we wanted to understand the dynamic Harlem Renaissance and the power of the creative spirit, we read Langston Hughes. We opened windows to the lives of others and that breath we took to live the air they breathed made us strong and more empathetic too. Make sure the books in your home reflect the great diversity in the souls of your children and in all the world around them and that you invite them to discover their mirrors and windows, and yours too. Where do they find themselves in the books they read? And where do they discover something new?
Our entire family becomes stronger through the profound power of the shared reading experience. Every single minute counts. And twenty minutes a day is truly transformative. Reading with your child, paired with the conversations you have together will nourish your child like the strongest vitamin, the warmest ray of sun, the kindest shoulder, long after that last line is read and your child’s day is done.