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Why I (Still) Read to My Children

posted by Jason Boyett

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?

 



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Tracy

posted October 19, 2011 at 5:32 pm


Jim Trelease made a living speaking and writing about reading aloud to his kids all the way until they left the house for college. The Read Aloud Hanbook by Jim Trelease is a very intersting read for anyone who wants to learn more on this subject.



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Katrina @ Callapidder Days

posted August 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm


It’s not at all weird to be reading to an 11-year-old (she said encouragingly). I still read to/with my almost-13-year-old (who reads a ton on his own, too). Not daily, but we’ll pick a book or series and read through it as a family. It’s something we all look forward to.



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Sherry

posted August 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm


It’s wonderful to see that so many parents read out loud to their kids! As a fifth grade teacher, I read out loud to my students everyday–even in this day and age where there’s so much to teach and not enough time to get to all of it. Many of my students came from low-income families where reading together was not a priority. They loved this time of the day. I made sure to read all sorts of genres and especially loved reading the first book in a series, then watching them devour the rest as they made choices about which books to read themselves.



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Amy

posted August 22, 2011 at 6:23 am


Though the fantasy genre didn’t stick for me as it later did for my baby sister, one of my fondest memories is my dad reading The Hobbit to me and my other sister when we were young.



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Susan

posted August 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm


My husband read to our kids frequently until the oldest was in middle school, and to the younger ones after that. He was in charge of the bedtime routine (so wonderful for this morning-person mom) and the kids enjoyed it so much that one of our grandchildren is named after a character in the Narnia Tales.



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Kathryn

posted August 21, 2011 at 12:38 pm


My father read to my siblings and me until two of us were in high school. We all read on our own, but reading aloud at night was an amazing time of togetherness and fun. Now that I’m older, I plan on reading to my children (when I have them.) I still have really fond memories of lying on my Dad’s bed, listening to him read Harry Potter, The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwieler, and many others… Keep it up!



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David Nilsen

posted August 21, 2011 at 10:48 am


My wife and I have read this series outloud together twice now, along with the Hunger Games. Reading outloud is a fantastic way to spend an evening if you love books. I can’t wait till my daughter is old enough to enjoy books of this length.



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Catherine

posted August 21, 2011 at 10:28 am


We’ve read to our kids since they were babies – and they’re now 13 and 16. Sometimes, my husband reads aloud to me while I’m knitting. It’s a wonderful habit to have. And our family LOVED the Harry Potter books, too!!



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DebbieQ

posted August 21, 2011 at 8:38 am


My kids are now grown. But they all agree that the time we spent reading before bed is one of their best memories. I am smiling even now thinking about it.



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Abby Normal

posted August 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm


Love this post! My son is 5 and I’ve been reading to him every night since he was a baby. I’m hoping to keep doing it for as long as he’ll let me.

He loves comic books and there are some great ones for kids out there (it makes for some fun voice acting, too)–we like “Batman:The Brave and the Bold” and “Tiny Titans”. There’s a “Fraggle Rock” one that’s really good.

Now that he’s getting bigger I’m trying to introduce more “chapter books”. We’ve read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Stuart Little. Sideways Stories From Wayside School was one where he kept begging to hear “just one more chapter”.

I have to watch myself, though, because there are so many books that I loved to read as a kid that he doesn’t quite have the patience to sit through just yet. (He’s not going to appreciate me reading the Hobbit to him right now, no matter how awesome I say that book is!)



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Jason Boyett

posted August 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm


Vanessa:

Yes! I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time. Just the first book, though. E has read the whole series and has been on my case to finish it out.

Dollie:

I LOVE that you are still reading to 15 year-olds, as well as involving them in the reading. That’s awesome.

Charlie:

Dunno. I’m not that into Zombie novels, so no idea whether the kids will be.



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Dollie Haynes-Buckhaults

posted August 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm


Yes, we still read to our children! There was a brief period when my two fourteen-year-olds requested to be exempt from our reading time because of their homework load. Now they are both fifteen and the vast majority of the time, are front and center for reading time. As the children have gotten older, they all like to take an occasional turn reading a few pages to the whole group.
What are we reading right now? At the 8-year-old’s request, we are reading our fourth Michael Morpugo book of the summer.



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Jennie Miller

posted August 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm


We do the same thing (starting Prisoner of Azkaban tonight!) though I never considered the benefits like you’ve listed here. I just thought it would be fun! It’s turned into a really sweet nighttime routine that we all enjoy… except when I’m tired and get tongue-tied.



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eyedoc

posted August 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm


I still read to my kids too! We loved the Narnia series and are currently reading A Wrinkle in Time. Funny thing, we actually had a conversation the other day about whether or not you had ever read A Wrinkle in Time. I assured Dave that if you are the sci fi nerd you claim to be, I am positive you have–probably more than once. . .



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Charlie Chang

posted August 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm


You think your kids will like zombie novels?



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Nathan R.

posted August 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm


Thanks for this post. I’ve read all of the HP books and loved them, but I’ve been hesitant to allow my kids (6 and 9) to read them. I’m a bit concerned with the message regarding “good” magic, but also there are some mature themes that they just aren’t ready for yet. I’ll likely read it with them, or just wait until they are a bit older. They love the CS Lewis series which upon reflection has quite a bit of “good” magic and mature themes too. :)



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Matt Beams

posted August 18, 2011 at 1:32 pm


Jason,

Loved this blog! I teach 4th Grade, and while they certainly read on their own and read aloud to the class, one of the things they love the most, year in and out, is when I read to them. I am a bit of a ham, so that definitely helps, but the most amazing thing to me is when a class full of 9-year-olds whines together, “Please can you just read one more chapter!”

Matt



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Ken Grant

posted August 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm


Some of my families best memories is going out to a park and me reading Harry Potter to the kids – we’d go to the bookstore for the midnight releases, and yes, I’d try doing the voices and everything.

The kids are now 17 and 18 -and we still talk about those sessions.



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Erika

posted August 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm


My dad reading to me when I was growing up is still my fondest memory of us from childhood. The idea of reading the HP series with my own (future) kids someday makes me so excited to share in that magic with them. I have been looking for a new series to delve into, but haven’t found it yet. Read on!



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Rob

posted August 18, 2011 at 11:39 am


my oldest daughter reminded me the other day that I used to make up stories before bed. we would read sometimes too, but they always preferred the made up ones.



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randomlychad

posted August 18, 2011 at 11:37 am


Jason, thanks so much for the shout out! Means a lot! I wholeheartedly agree. I have much more to say, but will take that offline.

Chad



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Rob Shepherd

posted August 18, 2011 at 11:33 am


My twins are 4 months old and we do read to them. Not every day but often.



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