I don’t think I could parent without reading bedtime stories.
I’ve always read to my kids, despite my oldest child who announced at a very young age: “You don’t need to read to me anymore. I can read by myself now.” That would mean skipping out on one of the main joys and learning experiences of life.
I come from a long line of bedtime-story readers. My mother continued to read to us through high school, and my parents still read aloud to each other today.
Besides all the cozy joy and good stuff in books, reading aloud helps me parent.
Books explore bullying and bravery. Moral choices and tough situations. What it feels like to be somebody else. If a child is behaving like Eustace Scrubb in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we can call it out. “That sounds like something Eustace would say.” No more needs to be said. No one wants to be like Eustace.
Reading helps children enlarge their world. Raising two white American males, this is particularly important in our family. Kids need to know what it feels like – on the inside – to be a boy, a girl, from this country or another one, to have a home or not, and meet true-to-life characters from a variety of race, class and religious traditions. Stories have a unique way of getting inside your soul.
We often get to know characters in a book better than we may know most people in real life. That empathy extends into the real world from the book world.
As kids get older, the books we choose to read together may be different than the ones they gravitate to on their own. Part of reading together is to introduce kids to new ideas, to genres they might not try, to stories I can tell they need to hear, to humanize the history they get in school. We also tackle older, classic books together, where the language might be dated, and where social ideas certainly are. Sometimes it means just choosing a silly book so we get to laugh together each night.
Kids need parents. Parents need back-up. Reading books together gives you hundreds of extra parents who can help you out on the job.
If you find you don’t have time to read every night, try it for a week. Then stop and take a break and pick it back up again. Or change the time of day that works for you. Or try audio books in the car.
Or you might try this method – reading aloud to your kids while they wash the dishes.
What age would you like to read aloud to your kids? Did your parents read to you past elementary school?