Last week, after almost two years of weeknight sessions, I finished reading the Harry Potter series aloud to my kids. Occasionally my wife filled in, but mostly it was me doing the reading…and the voices…and the silent editing out of J.K. Rowling’s way-too-often and entirely unnecessary use of -ly words (he said crankily).
My kids aren’t preschoolers. One is entering middle school next week. The other is midway through elementary school. Both are currently reading books on their own — usually more than one at a time. We’re a family of readers.
So why do we still read together as a family?
1. Reading is important: I’m a writer. Reading is a big deal for me. It’s important to my wife, too. It’s one of our favorite pastimes. Because our kids have seen us model this for them, they love to read, too. By making reading a central part of our family’s time together, we’re elevating it to a position of great importance.
2.Reading together before bedtime is a habit: Like most parents, we started this when the kids were babies. Reading to babies is one of the best things parents can do for their kids (regardless of the material). For preschoolers, it improves communication, expands their language development, and helps them identify reading as a pleasurable experience. It’s a great way to relax — together on a couch, for 15-20 minutes — after a busy day. It’s a good way to calm down rambunctious kids before bedtime. After making this a habit when they were little…we just never stopped.
3. We’re committed to doing fun stuff together: It’s fun to sit through movies together. It’s fun to watch a baseball game together. Since we all love to read, and we all love good stories, who says we shouldn’t enjoy a book together?
4. We want to introduce our kids to good culture: Both my wife and I had read the full series as the books came out. Our kids had not. We wanted to introduce them to the Potterverse, but (perhaps selfishly) we wanted to experience it again along with them. So we’ve been reading each book…and then watching the movies together once we finished the corresponding book.
5. We like the conversations it leads to: Yes, it’s fun to hear the kids discuss with each other which spells would be the coolest if they were real (aguamenti!), but it’s also fun to talk about what happens in the stories. What was it about Harry’s mother’s love for him that was so powerful? Why is the right thing to do often the hardest thing to do? What does it mean to be loyal to your friends? What does it mean to protect the Luna Lovegoods in your life against kids who think she’s weird?
6. We want the kids to look forward to something each day: It’s been amazing to me how much the kids love our reading time. If there’s one complaint we hear most often from them, it’s either that our reading time was cut short or that some quirk in our schedule prevented it from happening. In fact, we’ve even used it as punishment for misbehavior. The way they carried on when we did this, you’d think preventing one of them from sitting in on the story was the cruelest discipline ever. (When we did this, we did allow them to read the missed passage on their own.)
Now, two notes.
Note 1: Beliefnet is a religious blog site, and I realize there are still some very conservative Christians who think the Harry Potter series is some kind of gateway drug into Satanism or some other nefarious pagan netherworld. I think this is stupid, of course. As my friend Chad posted a couple weeks ago, the Harry Potter story is a Christian one, through and through. J.K. Rowling admitted the same after the final book was released. I’m not sure why I even feel the need to bring this up, but I still run into these evil-Harry-Potter threads every once in awhile. I’m always surprised…and then depressed.
Note 2: I do realize it’s kind of weird to still be reading to an 11 year-old. Maybe you think I’m on the verge of some kind of infantilizing, hovering type of parenting. You know what? I just don’t care. See #3 above. I’ll read to them, every night, as long as they’ll let me. Because who says reading has to be a solitary behavior?
Now that Hogwarts is in the rearview mirror, we’re moving on to another fantasy realm. We’ve started The Hobbit. After that we’ll tackle The Mysterious Benedict Society.
What about you? Do you read to your kids? If so, what are you reading these days?