Reading Routines and Habits for the School Year
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It’s here: school starts for my kids this week, and I’m sure the day is approaching for you as well, if it hasn’t already. In addition to the regular excitement and shopping for new clothes and supplies, I’ve been thinking about our reading routines and habits.
The school year is always jam-packed with activities and obligations, and I want to be sure that we are fitting in time to read more–and better–books. Not only is daily reading an expectation of the school, it’s something that’s important to our family.
Creating a Reading Routine
Our reading routine went a little off the rails over the summer. This wasn’t a bad thing–most of our routines went a little haywire. We still took trips to the library, but we didn’t always read in the evening before bed. Some days we read stacks of books and others we read none.
While we were generally okay with our free-form days, I missed the regular time curled up and reading with my kids. And, with the routine gone, I’ve found that one of my kids now isn’t as motivated to sit and read with me.
Now that our weeks will be more structured again, I plan to re-implement our nightly reading time. My oldest daughter and I have already started reading aloud again in earnest (she got the fifth and sixth Harry Potter books for her birthday, so there’s no reluctance on her part). Here’s what we’re doing to get our reading routine back in order:
- Pajamas and brush teeth about an hour before bedtime.
- Mom or Dad reads at least one book with 4-year-old. Seven-year-old reads independently.
- Four-year-old then has “free time,” usually quiet play in her room, or sometimes watching a show (not the best, I know–we’re in a difficult bedtime stage with Miss 4 these days).
- Mom joins 7-year-old to finish up independent reading time (and sneaks in a few minutes on my own book!)
- Mom reads Harry Potter book aloud with 7-year-old (4-year-old is welcome to join, but right now usually finds it too scary). It takes us quite a long time to get through a Harry Potter book, so this series may be part of our routine for the whole year!
- Lights out.
Building the Reading Habit
Key for us seems to be this wind-down hour before lights out, where everyone is dressed and ready for bed early. It reduces bed-time fights, limits options, and gets the kids more focused on reading. The quicker they’re ready for bed, the more time they have for reading or free time.
In addition, I want my kids to associate bedtime with reading, as something that just happens every night.
I started reading before bed when I was very young, and it’s now ingrained in me: I relax and sleep better when I can read a good book before bed. It’s almost a physical need, and I feel unsettled if for some reason I’m not able to read before bed.
This is what I mean by building the reading habit.
My kids go-go-go all day long. Right now, they rarely settle long enough to reach for a book. When they finally do settle down for the night, I want their main impulse to be to reach for a book.
I and some other “expert readers” shared more tips on building reading habits and culture at home here: Top Tips for Book Lovers Q&A: Advice from the Experts.
Choosing the Right Books
I’m not precious about the books my kids read. There are some books that I hope my kids will read, and there are many beautiful, award-winning books out there. While I usually try to add one or two to our library stack, I like to let them choose their own books.
My 7-year-old has started reading chapter books on her own. She loves a series called Puppy Place, as well as a series about fairies that I find incomprehensible and mind-numbingly boring (sorry, but I can’t even follow the story when she reads them to me).
But that doesn’t matter. SHE likes them, and they keep her reading.
I read so many books that were not on any best-of-anything lists when I was a kid: Sweet Valley (both Twins and High), Nancy Drew, Babysitters Club, VC Andrews (ugh).
The quality was questionable, but I loved them all. And reading fluffy books didn’t stop me from picking up and appreciating a classic here and there. Having the freedom to read widely made me more likely to do so. I’m convinced it’s the kids who only read assigned books who end up disliking reading.
For us, the “right books” are the fun books. The ones that make reading a habit and a loved hobby. My kids have all the time in the world to work at reading, and they’ll do plenty of it in school already. Reading time at home should be fun.
So, my oldest gets to read those fairy books. My youngest has shown a real love for wordless picture books–something my oldest was never into, so this is new to me. But since she can tell the story herself, she will sit down and read them aloud to her dolls, herself, the dog, or anyone who will listen. Her favorite is Good Dog, Carl.
She’s not reading words yet, but watching her is amazing and fascinating, and this type of solo reading is something I want to encourage. I plan to add more wordless books to our library very soon.
When my youngest is resistant to read-aloud time, I can usually persuade her with a funny book: The Book with No Pictures or We Are in a Book (Elephant and Piggie) are two favorites–it’s just a bonus that I enjoy them, too.
Reading More Books
Overall, I want everyone in our family to read more books–me included. Creating reading routines, making reading a habit, and choosing the right books are important for us all. I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful about my book choices by actually planning ahead a little with my monthly reading plans.
We’ve all fallen into the habit this summer of reaching for a screen when we sit down to relax. I admit: sometimes they’re lifesavers when I’m trying to get something done. But books can be as well.
I see the light in my oldest daughter’s eyes as she tries to anticipate what will happen next in Harry Potter. I can feel the deep concentration of my youngest as she examines the illustrations in a picture book and then verbalizes the story she sees. And I feel the sense of release and relaxation when I finally settle into my own books at the end of the day.
It’s all too easy these days to NOT read, especially when schedules get packed and brains feel tired. But those are the times when we should be reinforcing reading habits, making time to read, reading more books, and reading widely.
How do you establish reading routines during the school year?
Anytime I want my kids to laugh, I just look at them and say, “Ba-dongy face!”. We love that book! That’s so great you purposefully start a reading routine with your kids at such a young age. We do afternoon reading more in the summer than at bedtime. It’s mostly because my kids don’t take naps anymore I need some “me” time. Since my 5-year-old isn’t reading independently yet, I let him take the iPad in his bed and he listens to audiobooks through our library app. His favorite right now is Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and that whole series. It’s pretty funny. My older daughter’s reading is sporadic. Sometimes she’ll read for almost hours at a time when she finds a book she loves. I’ve had to actually make “no reading while walking in the parking lot” a rule. Sometimes she just reads for a few minutes before bed. I just keep taking her to the library and supplying her with books so I’m not pressuring her. I agree that “assigned” reading makes kids enjoy it less. Great post!
Ha! We usually mention the Hippo Named Boo-Boo Butt around our house 😀 I need to get my kids hooked up with audiobooks on their iPads–I’d feel better about their time with the screens, I think.
I know what you mean about sporadic reading for the older kids. My daughter has been exhausted after one week of school and doesn’t really want to pick up a book at night–except to listen to me read. She tends to wake up early, so she’s been doing her reading in the morning in bed. Whatever works!