I think we all know that reading books to our children from a very young age is one of the most important activities we can do with them to prepare them for future success in school and in life (and if you didn’t know this, consider yourself informed). But I’ll tell you a secret – that isn’t why I do it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that something so simple will give my kids such a significant advantage in school and in life. But the reason I love to share stories with my kids is because “reading time” is hands-down, no contest the best part of my day. It’s a cozy time, a peaceful time, and I usually have at least one warm cuddly body nearby who’s happily anticipating the start of a story. I love books, too, and with so many stories to choose from (as long as we remembered to get to the library) the hard part isn’t getting started, but getting them to stop asking for “just one more book!”
Sometimes it is hard, though, if we’ve had a rather busy day, or if there’s a lot of homework. My youngest is still filled up with the Importance of Having Homework, even though my eldest smirks and mutters, “wait ’til you’re in middle school.” There have been nights already this school year when my eldest has had to stay up extra late just to finish his other homework, and “reading time” gets sacrificed for the sake of sleep. Sometimes I wonder, is this other homework really more important than settling in with a good book for a while before lights-out? But no matter what I think, grades count in middle school, and an incomplete homework assignment will affect my kid’s overall grade. But then, what does he write in his Reading Log that night?
I’ll say it – I don’t like Reading Logs. I think they’re tedious, and there’s nothing like a tedious checklist for sucking the joy out of something fun. But I don’t have any reluctant readers at home, and maybe these checklists are good motivators for some kids, so who am I to judge? For us they serve as a good example that sometimes “the boss” will ask you to complete tedious tasks at work. You can be stubborn and resistant, or you can realize that it’s better to save your energies for bigger battles.
I do sometimes feel like a guardian of sorts in the face of all these outside expectations, a protector of the heart, of the fun, of children getting to stay little for a while longer. Luckily, by sharing stories in all sorts of ways with our children, we get to enjoy some fun, silly, creative, playful, cozy, loving, peaceful time together every day. All while boosting their literacy skills, if that’s what floats your boat. I’m in it for the joy.
Some people think they’re too busy to fit any reading time into their day, but you’d be surprised. In my house, we read at bedtime; it’s part of our bedtime ritual and has been since the kids were babies. But I have a friend who works second shift, and in her house they read in the morning. They call it “Breakfast Books” and they share stories over bowls of cereal before the kids head off to school. Sometimes I’m truly too tired to read a book to my youngest at bedtime, so we’ll just turn out the lights and I’ll make up a story. This isn’t as hard as you might think – it always starts with “Once upon a time,”. A sure way to shine in their eyes is to base the main character on your child, “there was a young princess named Emily.” Then throw in a conflict, “Emily was lonely because she was the only child in the whole kingdom.” Then just go with the flow, “One spring morning sad Princess Emily decided to go for a walk in the woods by her house, oops! I mean, her castle, but she hadn’t gone far when she tripped over a napping turtle …” and see where it takes you.
This storytelling thing works wonders at dinnertime, too. I think I read about this tactic in a parenting magazine, but we’ve been doing this for so many years now I can’t remember. We call it “Story in a Circle” and it works particularly well when the kids start bickering. One person (usually me) starts telling a made up story, and just when something is about to happen, the storytelling moves to the next person at the table. And around it goes. The tales that result are some of the funniest, most unexpected treats! My kids love this – yours might, too.
A friend of mine, a fellow mom, asked me recently if I still read books aloud to my eldest. I do, sometimes, but just as often we’ll read “side-by-side”, a term he came up with that simply means we hang out together in the quiet of his room and each read our own books. More often than not, at some point he’ll say, “Mom, listen to this,” and then he’ll read to me from his book. Still the best part of my day.
If you’re looking for more storytelling inspiration, you can catch Grammy Award-winning master storyteller Bill Harley at Stone Church Coffee House in Bristol this Saturday, October 30th at 7:30pm. Click here for more information.