Set aside one evening a week for the family to read together. Turn off all devices you’re not reading on. Set aside time before bed for everyone to talk about what they read that night.
The Whole Story
Maybe your family is still noodling over setting New Year’s Resolutions. You want something manageable while still being impactful. For you, I recommend Read – Talk – Repeat.
- Set aside the same time one evening each week where the entire family will power down, avoid other plans, and make sure they’re home. An hour might be ideal. Keeping the same night and time each week will help to develop habit and routine.
- When you’re all together, pick up whatever you’re currently reading and start reading. If you’ve got younger children, you may want to read aloud to them. Consider also the possibility of giving them a stack of picture books to work their way through during the reading time.
- Stop reading with enough time for everyone to share what they’ve read and to ask each other questions.
- Repeat this process each week without interruption.
While the whys of this process are largely self-evident, a few might not stick out to you. By committing to privileging time reading – no matter if it’s newspapers, magazines, or books – you are sending the message to your children that reading and being readers is important in your household. By making time to talk about what you’ve read and ask one another questions, you’re signaling to your children that reading can be a social activity and part of the joy of reading can be discussing the stories and ideas you encounter. Allowing everyone to read whatever they choose also gives you the chance to model a balanced reading diet that mixes fiction and non-fiction, short and long-form, current events and classics. Perhaps the best part? No planning required. Put it on the family calendar, and read.
If you and your children know you’re going to have some time to read each week, it’s a great catalyst to visiting your local public library to browse and check out new books. This is also an easy way to access texts without worrying about your family’s budget.
In the car, at the dinner table or in any other family space, take turns talking about what you’ve been reading – books, magazines, newspapers, content for work. If it’s your turn to share, talk about whether you like or dislike what you’re reading and explain why. Once sharers have finished, ask follow-up questions and make comments that offer connections between what they’ve read and other texts.
The Whole Story
It’s easy to think of reading and writing with your child as the only components of helping them become better readers and writers. While these are both tremendously powerful tools for helping them develop key skills and identities, they aren’t the only tools. By making time to talk about what you and your child are reading, and modeling what it sounds like for engaged readers to express their ideas, you’re adding another layer to family literacy.
When thinking about where these conversations might be helpful, consider one of the historically-dreaded conversations between families and their school-going students:
Family: How was school?
F: What did you do?
(Family member makes frustrated face.)
The goal with family reading conversations is to avoid the headache above, get to know what your child is doing in school, and help them learn to talk about their learning in productive ways.
- Model. Expecting your child to know how to talk about their thoughts and feelings about a text they’re reading without having any model to base it off of is dooming the conversation from the start. Consider the following steps:
- State a specific fact or opinion about something/anything you’ve read.
- Follow up with some piece of evidence or a memorable quotation from the reading to illustrate your point.
- Ask what your child thinks about the idea or opinion.
- Ask a specific question. Your child’s day likely includes no fewer than lessons on 5 separate subjects, all of them asking for retention of new material. Asking, “What did you do/learn about?” can very well bring back a flood of ideas that might be overwhelming to attempt to recount all at once. Thus, “Nothing.” Asking, “What is something you read today?” and then following up with, “What did you think about it?” or “Who was a character you liked/hated?” gives a more pointed line of thinking and can help your child organize their thinking for expression.
- Share. If you read a news article that’s particularly interesting, share it with your child. If they have a text they’ve read they enjoyed, ask to borrow it. By showing interest and treating reading as peer activity, you’re inviting your child to be part of a community of readers.
If you’re worried your child will have trouble remembering what they’ve read, send a quick note to their teacher asking questions like, “What are you reading in class right now?” “What’s it about?” “Who are some main characters or what are some big ideas we could talk about at home?” These details can jump start conversation and show your child you’re willing to invest time in their learning too.