When we brought our first daughter home from the hospital, my husband and I stared at her beautiful face, looked at each other, and laughed. We had no idea what to do with her! So we went to our little bookshelf, picked up some picture books gifted by family and friends, and started reading to her. There was something so beautiful about just being with her and a story. It took the pressure off us as new parents to “do something”. It became an important part of our routine with both our girls and something we still do to this day.
In those early years, there is no doubt that reading to our babies and small children has significant benefits for vocabulary development and early literacy skills. Bedtime stories are a part of many nighttime routines. But something happens when kids become school aged and start reading for themselves. This is when many parents stop reading aloud and I often wonder why.
Why do we stop reading to our kids?
Is it a relief to know that your kids can read to themselves which means one less thing for you to do in a hectic day?
Do you not like reading to your kids? I know some parents who aren’t comfortable reading out loud.
Perhaps reading together was never a part of your household routine when you were growing up. For my husband, daily reading was not something he grew up with and was a learned routine that we developed together for our girls.
Do your kids think that stories are "for babies”? This one I will dig into in a future post as it’s deeply triggering for me!
Over the years I have seen and heard it all. I have seen a 9-year old reluctant to sit in a storytime circle, somehow embarrassed to be there, yet desperate to listen to my story. I have watched parents force their kids to sit still and pay attention, thinking it’s the right thing to do, when the parents clearly don’t want to be there. And I’ve even had parents say that they could never get the words out as well as I do and so they don’t read to their kids because they don’t want to ruin storytime.
Here's a secret: reading to kids has almost nothing to do with the story itself.
This sounds strange coming from an author, doesn’t it? Well, I think we need to define the core essence of storytime: connection. That’s right, storytime is about connection. It’s about being close and feeling safe. It’s about being heard and cultivating presence to listen. Storytime could be reading a grocery flyer if being with the person reading it gave you joy! We all want to be heard, seen and safe, and storytime delivers that trifecta. The added bonus of reading to older kids, and by older kids I mean school-aged right up to high school, is that the story can be the ice breaker to cultivate connection and open up into conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have the space to take place.
Here are my top tips for creating a read aloud routine for older kids.
- Start small. Perhaps it’s reading an interesting article you found while scrolling IG or a news clipping about a subject you think your kids are interested in. Use caution, as what YOU may be interested in and what THEY might be interested in could be different. Try to think from their point of view: what might they want to share with you and discuss?
- Use one of my free stories. You can find a 5, 10 and 15 minute video story on the Everyday Icing YouTube channel where I can read to your kids. Or perhaps you’d prefer a free audio story? I have chosen these stories for their simplicity and fun as much as their ability to broach deeper themes, if you so choose to go there. Take the pressure off yourself to read and reap all the benefits of sharing the moment with an audio or video story.
- Go to the library or the bookstore and select a book together. Do you and your kids want to learn about raising chickens? How about selecting a book based on their favourite movie? It doesn’t have to be a novel, so why not DIY, astrology basics or permaculture? Nurture their interests AND gain the benefits of read aloud time together. Don't forget about audio books! You don't have to read aloud if you don't want to, and there are PLENTY of incredible narrators out there to enjoy.
- When in doubt, reach for CS Lewis. Ok, I’m a LOT biased here. I think the Chronicles of Narnia are the holy grail of literature for kids AND adults. Start with the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and read them in author written order, not box set order. Whether your kid is grade 3 or grade 8, the themes are rich and there is no shortage of content to appeal to all interests.
- Quality is more important than quantity. This adage is true even for storytime! Perhaps your schedule only allows for a once-a-week window on Sunday mornings for 15 minutes right now. That’s OK. If the material selected is of interest, you might find a reluctant storytime participant asking to know “what happens next”. Just do your best to start small and keep with it.
- Be present. Oftentimes the thing we most need is the very thing we “don’t have time for”. Does your kid need reading support? Do you want to feel closer and more connected to your kids? Do you feel too busy to sit still for 15 minutes and read? Making the time and choice to be present could be the greatest gift of all to give to your kids. I can say from experience a 5-minute story has quite often turned into a 20-minute discussion about something upsetting from the week that needed unpacking. Where will you allow your storytime minutes to take you?
Our girls are 9 and 11 as I write this post, and we are currently reading 4 books a month! It’s certainly not a competition or a badge of honour... our home education board offers Socratic dialog classes, and we are taking TWO this semester! (One too many, as this rookie homeschool mom quickly discovered!) While each sister has her own curriculum list, they are sitting and listening to each other’s novels. I cherish this time each day. We get cozy, Ray chooses his lap, and a couple chapters inevitably turns into deep discussions and predictions for how the story may unfold. We have cultivated a culture of reading aloud in our family, and I wish for you to discover the joy of it in yours.
For storytime ideas, feel free to browse the Everyday Icing storybooks in the shop. And the free resources in the blog.
What are your favourite storytime books, audio books or ways to read to older kids? Let me know in the comments!
May sharing a story always be the sweetest part of your day.