How to Read to Your Children and Enjoy It

Yes, it is possible. You can read to your children and enjoy it — all of you. My post on Why You Should Read to Your Children gave a few reasons for making it part of your family routine. But that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy for us to float away on imagination bubbles.

At first we failed miserably. I thought the children — ranging in ages from 2-9 at the time — would sit like angels and listen to me regale them with classic tales from C.S. Lewis. They did. For about five minutes.

Somewhere in the never-ending back story at the beginning of Prince Caspian, they faded out one-by one. Soon the family-bonding time turned into a frustrated fit of anger from — well, me. And it was “off to bed!”

I even used our regular family meeting table (a square one that seats all eight of us) as the reading spot so we could all be gathered around facing one another. A couple of children did actually stay focused. Not surprisingly, they were the ones who naturally gravitated toward words.  The others? Well, let’s just say they were polite — but easily distracted.

I am happy to say, we’ve learned a few tricks to improve our family reading time. It’s no longer something we dread. In fact, the children moan if we miss it! And that’s in spite of the fact that we are reading through the unabridged version of — The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.

That’s right — the whole thing.

A Few Key Steps

Here are a few key steps for reading to your children so you all enjoy it:

  • Choose a time. Children crave consistency. Let’s face it, we all do. If we don’t schedule it into our weekly routine, it probably won’t get done. Make it predictable so it doesn’t conflict with other priorities. For us, every Tuesday night for 30-40 minutes is our family reading time. Important reminder: Always leave them wanting more, not wishing you had ended twenty minutes ago.
  • Choose a place. We moved reading to the children from our family meeting table to the family room around the fireplace. Nothing like a fire to spark imagination in the winter. Everyone can still be more or less in a circle but each is free to relax a bit.
  • Choose an activity. I know this seems counterintuitive to have them doing something while we read, but our breakthrough came when I decided to seek synergy in the reading time. We purchased a sketch book and colored pencils for each child. We gave them their own “creative tub” in which to keep them. It’s only for family reading time. While Dad reads, each child must first sit silently for a few minutes. Once the imagination wheels start to turn, they are free to create whatever their minds conjure up. It doesn’t have to connect with the story. Their hands stay busy while their minds stay active. And both activities together grow their imaginations.
  • Choose a story. Don’t start with an encyclopedia or even cool gardening books if that’s your thing. Everyone loves stories. Choose stories that will interest them. But be sure to be a parent, as well. Pick tales that will put meat on the bones of their soul. That doesn’t mean you can’t toss in short, fun readings from time to time. In fact, you may want to have each of the children take a turn offering a short story or book to give them more buy-in into the process.
  • Choose a voice. Make it a fun time for all of you by doing your best to find unique voices for each character. Believe me, it’s hard to keep track of them all in LOTR – but still fun. (Gimli still makes my throat tickle a bit too much, but Gandalf is a fun one.) Remember, you are training their imaginations by modeling how to read. No pressure.

I’ll post later on why we chose Lord of the Rings. You should  choose what works for your family. I’d suggest making a “short list” of books you think might work and then discussing them with your children. Try to reach a consensus – and maybe a compromise — to get things rolling with their support. If your children are much younger, of course, any Dr. Seuss or similar tale will do the job.

How do you read to your children? What tips and trick do you use — or did your parents use with you — to create lasting family memories? Share a comment with a click here.

photo by: h.koppdelaney

12 Responses to “How to Read to Your Children and Enjoy It”

  1. JBrennan August 20, 2012 at 9:57 PM #

    I adored reading to my kids! During the day I would read to each or rather whoever wanted to listen cuddled on the couch. At bedtime when everyone was nestled in, but before individual prayer time I’d sit in the area just outside their rooms and read. We have a small house and the rooms all face a little room still affectionately called “the toy room.” Anyway, our biggest failure was Tom Sawyer. Ugh, they couldn’t relate at all and I felt I had to stop to explain the terminology. Finally, the great success was the “”Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” I read only a chapter a night. When that book was done they asked for the next, then the next. I like reading the Magician’s Nephew last though. Some launched into bigger books on their own soon after. Others just enjoyed the calming and/or entertaining effect of my voice(s). Aaron read the kids “How to Pilot an Aeroplane,” then “Bananas Don’t Grow on Trees.” We totally believe their thinking processes were influenced by the diversity of readings they heard and then chose.
    I have to add that previously my young son had refused to read chapter books on his own. The first ones he finally got interested in were… “Captain Underpants!” We thought whatever worked was welcome!! It wasn’t long before LotR and other classics was firmly planted on his bookshelf.

  2. Julie Merrin September 1, 2012 at 3:34 AM #

    I love reading to my daughter. But then, I have always loved to read myself and personally think that the ability to enjoy a good story opens up a world of wonder. I do voices, pause at just the right point to give her a chance to absorb something significant that just happened. It is such fun to see her whirl around to look at me with her mouth and eyes wide open as she realizes what is about to happen … whether something funny, delightful, dangerous or sad. The ability to predict outcomes is important. I appreciate the homeschool curriculum I use from Sonlight. Lots of good quality books that open opportunities for deeper discussion.

    • Bill Blankschaen September 1, 2012 at 12:15 PM #

      Julie,

      You captured it beautifully! Keep it up!! Imagination is a frail thing at that young age.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Jared September 2, 2012 at 9:18 AM #

    My father read the Chronicles of Narnia to me when I was young. I think he might have read the first two books in the Space Trilogy that C.S. Lewis wrote too. I’ve read a lot of books since then, but I don’t remember many of them half as well as the ones my dad read to me when I was a kid

    • Bill Blankschaen September 2, 2012 at 7:08 PM #

      Hey Jared! Thanks for the comment. Good memories. Kind of like our readings of ancient literature around the campfires back in the classroom, eh?

      Stay in touch!

      • Jared September 10, 2012 at 9:04 PM #

        Haha, well yes now that you mention it, I think I remember a lot of those stories pretty well too. Pretty sure I can even still recite some of the poems we had to memorize, so our time wasn’t wasted

        • Bill Blankschaen September 10, 2012 at 10:05 PM #

          Wasted? Perish the thought. After all, I met a traveler from an antique land who said….

    • Barnabas October 19, 2012 at 9:35 PM #

      Jared, I’m sure you don’t know half of the books half as well as you should like; and I like less than half of them half as well as they deserve.
      (JRRT)

  4. momhusfam September 26, 2012 at 1:57 PM #

    I’m a school librarian and sometimes have difficulty keeping diverse groups of children focused on a book. I love your idea of giving the kids paper and colored pencils and encouraging them to draw. What a great way to stimulate their imaginations. Thanks for sharing it. Oh, by the way, God used the joy I had in reading to my (then young) daughter to show me his desire for me to go to library school.

    • Bill Blankschaen September 26, 2012 at 3:13 PM #

      Glad to hear it! I know I focus better when I’m doing something creative. I learn better that way, too. And isn’t it God’s way to take us in one direction in order to move us in a completely unexpected direction?

      Thanks!

  5. Barnabas October 19, 2012 at 9:31 PM #

    I will always remember the evenings my mom spent with us three kids reading the Chronicles of Narnia. I don’t remember how often it was, and my recollection of whole of the works is a little hazy. I tended to get distracted with thoughts and other twiddlings, but I was drawn to the family event. Although I didn’t remember all of the plots and characters (which is normal for a little kid, I suppose), the overarching themes and most important details stuck with me. This is why I am fascinated with Lewis and Tolkien today.
    My mother started us off well, because I went on to read the Hobbit and the LotR at age 10. I’ve read through the entirety of the two twice so far, I intend to again in the future.

    Anyway, good article. I hope to impart the same foundations of creative thought to my kids someday.