I have a confession. I love my kids. But some days getting on the floor to play trucks seems impossible because all I want to do is crash on the couch.
We want to bond with our children, develop their little brains, make memories, build strong relationships, raise them to be kind ... the list of parenting goals goes on and on.
One of the best ways I've found to maximize time with my children, make them feel loved, help them become smarter, develop their vocabulary, raise them to be empathic people with high emotional intelligence—all while I get to crash on the couch—is reading aloud.
Reading aloud to your child accomplishes all those goals. Not to mention the perfect activity to turn to when all I want to do is relax. In 30 minutes a day, or less, I can change my child's life by cuddling up with good books.
So what do you do when real life happens and it feels like you aren't getting enough chances to read?
Set yourself up for success by developing a family culture around reading.
These few preparations don't take much time but offer big dividends.
Make books easily accessible. If it's 5 p.m. and you only have 15 minutes until dinner, that's not the time to run to the library or hunt for something to read. Stock up on books you and your child both love and plant them in easy-to-grab places. I keep a decorative crate of books at the end of my couch. When it's time to read, we can reach over and grab something I know will be a winner. Being prepared beforehand makes all the difference between reading a lot and none at all. (Bonus: Keeping books at your little one's eye level means she is more likely to grab a book and flip through it on her own. This is great for her and might buy you a few more minutes of calm.)
Choose books you both actually love to read. Of course, you are willing to read and reread a book that makes you want to poke your eyes out simply because you love your child. But seriously, save yourself some pain and find books that make you laugh, or books you loved as a child. Hunt down well-written, inspiring children's books that stick with you. If you want a cheat sheet of the best of the best, here are some places to start.
Work with the wiggles. Kids need to move, so work with the wiggles instead of fighting them. Keep little hands busy while you read aloud. With their minds on the story, their hands can be coloring or building with LEGOs, or even delving into a sensory bin. They need to move sometimes and that's okay. Sure, reading time is a great time for cuddles and proximity, but understand it doesn’t have to be picture-perfect Norman Rockwell to count!
Talk about the story as you go, but don't make kids feel as though you are quizzing them. Keep it fun. Don't pressure yourself to ask complicated questions about the story. Open-ended questions like "What do you think is going to happen next?" or "What would you be feeling right now if this were you?" are great conversation starters and can pertain to any story.
Create as many spaces to read as you have screens in your home—phones included. Make comfy reading nooks, get kids to make a reading fort out of blankets, put baskets of books near a rocking chair, whatever makes reading comfy and appealing. It's a given that you don't want to compete with the hypnotic power of screens. So make sure you shut them down so you, your child, and your book are the main event during reading time.
The biggest thing about reading aloud is the powerful bonds you are building with your child. As you sit shoulder to shoulder, you are sharing the same adventure. Your child feels closer to you as you share inside jokes and consider the same characters friends. Get in the habit of sitting down as a family to talk about ideas through books. Stockpiling this kind of family bond through books sets the stage for a lifetime of strong relationships.
About the Author: Laura Lee Ellis is a writer, speaker, former missionary to Africa, and a second-generation homeschooler. She is passionate about world missions and the potential of motherhood in shaping culture. She has contributed to national magazines and radio and works as a writer for Sonlight Curriculum. She, her husband Nick and their three children have lived in six countries and recently returned to the States from the University of Oxford, England. She believes in the power of stories to bring people together and inspire action