A taxi driver asked Deborah Farmer Kris, parent educator, teacher, and mom, during her ride, “What’s your best piece of parenting advice?”
Her straightforward reply was, “I read to my family.”
In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, reading together with your children has never been more critical to unify a family. Stories connect us, create a sense of normalcy and security, and help kids feel loved. Spending time reading a book as a family provides a consistent, safe place for respite and comfort.
Instituting a practice of reading aloud to your children is one of the best ways to foster literacy skills and develop positive associations with books and reading. Stories open the door for conversations about important topics, ideas, people, and places. They also extend social-emotional development and help students develop empathy, kindness, compassion, and respect for others.
Tips for family storytimes
- Start at an early age. Reading to babies helps build intimacy, opens a new window, vocabulary, opens a new window, and forms habits. A hint: if you read a story as part of the bedtime ritual from infancy, your child will make sure you follow the routine each night!
- Set aside time to read each day, and read aloud if possible.
- Honor child preference: let them explore and choose the books to read-aloud.
- Make shared reading interactive to boost engagement.
- Read the pictures with younger children. Illustrations give visual clues that build vocabulary and add to your child’s emotional toolkit, opens a new window. Before reading a book aloud, “picture walk” through the pages. Look at characters, the setting, and ask your child to make predictions about what could happen. While reading, stop to look at characters’ expressions and body language, and ask, “How do you think she’s feeling right now?”
- Press the pause button. It can be tempting on some nights to rush to “lights out.” Wait occasionally before turning the page and take time to look at a picture, opens a new window, ask a question, or share reactions. Help your child make connections between what they read and the world around them.
Middle grade readers
Literacy skills in older students will improve by discussing narratives, character development, plot summaries, and other writing elements in books read together.
- Use teachable moments to discuss topics, ideas, or writing techniques (as developmentally appropriate).
- Consider other reading-together activities such as joining a family book group like the New-York Historical Society (NYHS) Reading into History Family Book Club, opens a new window (currently virtual). Or try a simplified home version of reader’s theater, opens a new window if you have spirited participants.
Children benefit from being read to even after they've learned how to read on their own.
Click on a cover image to listen to an excerpt or over 1,500 complete book readings, opens a new window.
Booklists for family storytimes
As we spend substantial time indoors at home now, family read-alouds can nurture reading development, strengthen bonds, and create memories to last a lifetime!
Jacobson, Linda. (2020, August 27). Family Bonding Over Books in Turbulent Times, opens a new window. News & Features. School Library Journal [professional publication]
Kamleiter, Kaitlyn. (2020, May 13). How to help your kids keep reading during stay-at-home order and distance learning, opens a new window. Children’s Minnesota [website blog]
Kris, Deborah Farmer. (2018, May 15). Why reading aloud to kids helps them thrive, opens a new window. PBS for Parents [blog]
Sharp, Colby. (2020, September 20). 5 reasons to read picture books to older readers, opens a new window. YouTube
Image from Pikwizard
Sketchnotes created by @JulieWoodard, opens a new window