Simple Ways To Carve Out Reading Time For Kids

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Let me take a wild guess: As a busy parent you’re probably reading this article in between folding laundry, running errands, paying bills, making meals, maintaining the house, driving to extracurricular activities, commuting to work and school, and all the many other activities that chisel away the hours in the day. So, if you were asked to add one more daily activity to the list — encourage family reading — you may be very reluctant. But you might think differently if you knew how important daily reading is to the educational and social future of your child.       

The Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy has pointed out the need for strong literacy skills in our children and how this impacts various aspects of their adult lives: “Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st Century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations so they can create the world of the future. In a complex and sometimes even dangerous world, their ability to read will be crucial.”

Gone are the days when literacy was simply thought of as reading a book used for language arts class in school. In today’s schools, students are instructed in information literacy and how to navigate different media to retrieve and present information. Students are given complex word problems in math class and are asked to write out, step-by-step, a lab experiment in science class. They are asked to write a report about a classical composer in music class and write a reflective poem about an abstract painting in art class.

A cursory look at a student’s last two years in high school can illustrate the importance of these skills — studying for SAT exams; reviewing and understanding material from prospective colleges; writing college application essays; communicating with college personnel; and writing letters for jobs, internships, or scholarships. These skills are needed regardless of whether your child’s interests lie in language arts, math, science, or the arts. The bottom line is that it is never too early to work on literacy skills, and creating a little time every day is necessary.

Finding time for daily reading might not be as challenging as you think. A few simple tricks and suggestions will help you support your child in receiving the much-needed reading time that is so important to their personal interests and education, now and in the future.

A good start

Encourage your child to take advantage of all the little pockets of time between their daily activities — waiting for a dental/medical appointment; bus/car ride; waiting for friends to arrive before school; free time after lunch; waiting for sports practice to start; sitting through a sibling’s activity; or even free time in class. These moments are wonderful opportunities to sneak in a little reading time. The key is to always have reading material tucked away in your child’s backpack. If they have a good book, magazine or e-reader on hand, all these little moments are opportunities to read a few more pages or even finish an entire magazine article.

Examine your child’s day

Keep a brief log of how your child spends their free time. Is there unnecessary time spent watching TV or checking social media? You might be surprised how your child spends their time each day. A 2010 report published by the Kaiser Foundation, “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-to-18- Year Olds,” delivered some alarming statistics regarding media use in teens: “Today’s teens spend more than 7½ hours a day consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games.”

On the road

With busy schedules, many families spend an incredible amount of time in the car driving to school, after- school activities, errands, playdates, etc. This can all add up to countless minutes per day, but it can also be used to your advantage.

Keep in mind that when your child is in the car, this is an opportunity to direct their attention to reading material and provide alternatives to portable electronics. Many cars have large sleeves on the back of the front seats — fill these with quick reading material. Magazines, crossword puzzles, and word games, such as Scrabble books, all fit nicely and are easily available to occupants in the back seat. Change them up every once in awhile to keep it fresh and engaging. You can also get a small container to put either on the back seat or back seat floor, and fill it with books. Good suggestions would be short-story collections, comic books, Chicken Soup for the Soul editions — something that could be completed in a short amount of time. Again, keep the selections revolving to retain interest.

Monitor screen time

Keep a log of exactly how much TV your child is watching. A study conducted by the Nielsen Company reported: “Kids aged 2-5 now spend more than 32 hours a week, on average, in front of a TV screen. The older segment of that group (ages 6-11) spends a little less time, about 28 hours per week watching TV, due in part that they are more likely to be attending school for longer hours.” Does your child need to watch a cartoon while they eat breakfast or can they read a good book instead?

Also, monitor computer time — especially if your child has a computer in their room. Are they completing a homework assignment or browsing the Web? Try to control the constant distractions from electronics. When your child is reading, keep phone, computer, and any other electronic devices out of reach and allow them to check only at designated times. This will eliminate distractions and remove the temptation to stop reading, check, and respond to messages.

Plan your time in advance

Make sure you and your child are not overscheduled and doing activities that are not absolutely necessary. Determine if there is something that can wait until the next day to allow a few precious minutes for reading. Again, the goal is to provide a little reading time every day, and sometimes choices need to be made to make this happen. If the day is coming to an end and your child has not had quiet reading time, maybe their chore of cleaning their bedroom can wait until tomorrow. As hard as it is to look at clothes and toys on the floor, the rewards of daily reading are much greater than a tidy bedroom.

Use quiet reading time as a “reward” for your child

If they have worked diligently on homework or completed a challenging chore, give them some quiet reading time to rest and relax. Make this time a family activity — turn off the TV, radios, phones, computers, etc., and spend a few minutes as a family enjoying reading. Children will imitate what they see the adults in their lives doing on a regular basis. Let them see you read a book, magazine, or newspaper. Share with your child something interesting or funny you are reading. This gives them a front-row seat to see for themselves how literacy skills impact and enrich their daily lives.