During a recent visit to our pediatrician’s office, I found myself alone with my daughter in an empty exam room, waiting for the doctor to make an appearance. To fill the idle minutes, I reached down and pulled a book out of the basket tucked under the chair. What ensued was a delightful handful of minutes complete with snuggles and giggles as I read aloud to my girl and we laughed at the illustrations and chanted the sing-songy repetitive phrases together.
The expression on the doctor’s face as she opened the door was priceless, for you see, my daughter is 16 years old and we were reenacting our shared memories of reading books together throughout her early childhood years. From the time my daughter was an infant I spent hours reading to her on a regular basis. It was built into our daily routines, and the time we spent together sharing books turned into wonderful conversations and memorable experiences.
According to the results of a national survey by Readaloud.org that was released in March, parents of children ages 0-8 recognize that children reap great benefits from the experience of being read aloud to on a regular basis. However, the survey shows that just 34 percent of respondents read aloud to their children for a minimum of 15 minutes each day. Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud to children from birth, only one in 10 parents stated that they have consistently read aloud 15 minutes daily with their child since the day they were born.
Life is hectic for parents of young children. Their days are jam-packed with responsibilities and activities, and little ones require a lot of help and guidance. Every trip out the door involves brushing multiple sets of teeth, attaching countless shoes to the proper feet, zipping numerous jackets, and securing all of those seat belts and car seat buckles. Evenings can be chaotic, and by the time children are tucked into their beds, parents enjoying their first moment of solitude of the day might also recall the things that slipped through the cracks. Often that includes reading to their children.
It may at times feel like another impossible obligation to fulfill, but reading aloud does not have to become an additional burden or activity to squeeze into an already overcrowded schedule. Try these small tweaks to carve out additional time for sharing a book with your child.
Think outside the bed. Seventy-one percent of survey respondents reported that they read to their children at bedtime. That is a natural time to curl up with a book, but given the crazy schedules of families, it can be challenging to carve out time at the end of the day to spend 15 minutes with a book or two. As bedtimes get pushed back, parents and children may become tired and grumpy. Reading can become a battle of wills or a chore that gets rushed. Consider finding other quiet moments throughout the day to share a story, such as bath time, meal time or while taking a break in the afternoon.
Every minute counts. Babies, in particular, have trouble focusing on any one activity for a sustained amount of time. Introduce read-aloud times incrementally. Start with a minute or two, several times a day. You will notice a gradual increase in your baby’s attention span. Perhaps you only read a page or two before your child wiggles away. That is fine. Do not give up; try reading a few more minutes at a later time. Introduce your infant to a variety of board books, interactive tactile books and books with flaps and other fun surprises.
Banish books from the shelves. Any early childhood classroom teacher will tell you that books that are neatly placed on a crowded shelf are not the books that children will choose to read. Have you noticed how books are placed side by side, with the covers showing, at bookstores and libraries? Sometimes books are propped up on the tops of shelves or in baskets strategically placed where they might be picked up and browsed through. Keep books in your home in smaller baskets, on the tops of tables or other furniture, or on a low shelf next to your couch. When books are stored within reach where you and your children sit and relax, you’ll be more likely to indulge in a shared reading activity when you have a couple of idle minutes.
Take reading on the road. Fill a tote bag with a few favorite books to keep in the car. Use the inevitable wait time during carpool duty to read to your child. Encourage your children to “read” the stories to you while you’re driving. Read signs and posters aloud as you travel. Look for books in waiting areas. If you don’t see any at first, ask the receptionist if any are available; they may have a secret stash behind the counter.
Use various resources to stock your home with books. Look for books at thrift stores, yard sales and other places that recycle goods. Visit the library. Ask librarians, teachers and book store employees for recommendations — they love to share their experiences and opinions. Check out anthologies of picture books and poems to expose your child to a variety of texts and authors. And reread favorite stories. Return visits to books offer fresh perspectives and can generate new conversations.
The good news from the recently released study is that parents seem to have received the message that reading aloud to their children is both necessary and beneficial. Incorporating the minor adjustments listed above in the attitudes, perspectives and environment of a family’s daily routine can result in more time spent sharing and enjoying the stories, rhymes and information found in books. Which one will you implement today?
Merete Kropp is a child development and family specialist and mother of three. Kropp can be found at familynurturance.com and @nurturance on Twitter and Nurturance on Facebook.
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