I know you're busy. I'm busy. We're ALL busy.
We limit our children's extracurricular activities, mostly because we are big believers in free play and de-stressing time. I have one kiddo who struggles with anxiety (as do I!), which you can read more about in my recent Babble article, and because of this, we work hard to just CHILL after school. The first few months of school, we do no extracurriculars, and then after that, the kids can each sign up for one (late afternoon/early evening) extracurricular of their choosing. Usually this entails a one hour a week tumbling class, a basketball practice, or something similar.
We've established a pretty strict after school routine for the sake of sanity (routine is GOOD), that goes like this:
- 4:00: snack time (protein, crunchy carbs, healthy fat)
- 4:15-5:00: gross motor play, either outside (when it's nice), an XBOX dance or sports game, or downstairs where we have gross motor toys like a trampoline, basketball goal, bikes, etc.
- 5:00-5:45: play inside and upstairs (art, puzzles, sensory play such as a rice bin or PlayDoh, toy kitchen, books, etc.) while I make dinner
- 5:45-6:15: dinner
- 6:15-6:30: baths
- 6:30-7:00: playing with Daddy while I lay out clothes and prepare lunches/snacks for the next day
- 7:00: get ready for bed
- 7:15: Daddy puts our toddler to bed, I put the girls to bed, which involves, story, prayers, songs, etc.
- 7:30-7:45: bedtime (hopefully!)
As a former English teacher and as a writer, I greatly value reading. We own thousands of books---yet I've noticed over time, they aren't being read (and appreciated) because even though we don't engage in a lot of "extras," we still are pretty limited on time.
I don't want to force my kids to read, like it's a punishment or something to rush through before moving on to something better, and I've realized I don't have to. Kids naturally enjoy holding books, pointing out the funny details in the illustrations, and sounding out words. They like when mom uses funny voices to share what characters are saying. They are curious and excited.
But in order to be these things, they need opportunities that aren't just going to happen. We have to be intentional as parents.
Here are some practical tips to work books into your daily schedule:
1: Read to your children when they are a captive audience: meal time, bath time, and bed time.
Now, all three won't always work. My older two kids prefer showers these days. Bed time is usually when I'm the most exhausted and impatient. So meal time often is the best option for us. Since I usually serve the kids their meals first, it's easy for me to read to them before I eat my dinner. I usually choose picture books for these times since they best hold the attention of all the kids (my son is 3.5 right now). The book needs to have vibrant illustrations, and funny is usually best. Another great option is to give each child a blank sheet of paper and a variety of coloring tools. Read a picture book to them and have them draw what they are hearing. After you're finished reading, have each child show their art and explain it to one another. The "big reveal" makes my kids giddy! And yet another option is to read and have the kids illustrate outside using sidewalk chalk. The possibilities are endless!
2: Keep books everywhere.
We have a basket under our buffet for library books. There are "potty" themed books in the kids' bathroom. We have books in their rooms and their playroom, and books in our living room (these are the coffee table books I shared with you in an earlier blog post). It's tempting to pick up a book when one (or two or ten) is always in their line of vision.
3: Don't place limits.
Encourage your child to read anything and everything. As a kid, I used to read shampoo bottles while showering and cereal boxes when eating breakfast. I read my mom's Good Housekeeping magazines and my dad's books by Dale Carnegie that he had throughout the house. If your eight-year-old wants to read his little sister's board books, fine.
4: Go with your child's interests.
Kids go through phases where they get hooked on various themes, people, and events. My son is currently obsessed with firefighters and firetrucks. My oldest has had a long-time obsession with unicorns. My middle daughter loves anything superhero. When you know your child's interests, utilize your local used bookstores and library to get books on those themes; remembering again that it's ok to choose books that are above or below their reading level (as long as the themes and language of the book is appropriate). Make sure these are available in your kiddo's line of vision (see point #2).
5: Dramatic play.
I do something with my girls called a "lovey show." It's where I take some of their stuffed animals and act out silly plays at bedtime. They LOVE it. The other night, my oldest asked if she could perform that evening's show. She grabbed her little sister's easy reader version of Cinderella and read it while acting out the lines with her stuffed animals. Brilliant! She practiced reading while my younger daughter listened and delighted, as she always does, in the "action" of the show.
6: Rotate your books.
Using a theme such as an upcoming holiday or season, pull out those books from your collection and have them in a "book spot" in your home. Again, make sure this is a visible place. I recommend purchasing a clear bin to hold your books. Don't forget to get out a range of book types depending on your kids' ages, including: board books, comic books, picture books, easy readers, and chapter books. Even adult coffee table type books and magazines are appropriate. These "new" books will delight your children and help them prepare for whatever upcoming event you are anticipating or preparing for. We have a special bin of Christmas toys and books that only come out in December, and even my older girls are thrilled to see some of the board books I pull out! Consider pulling out your favorite adoption books before a child's adoption day.
7: Use books as art.
In our living room, we have one end table in which I display four coffee table books. They are mostly art books, with little text, featuring people of color. My kids love flipping through these books and pointing out their favorite pages. Some books are too beautiful to be stuck on a dusty shelf. Again, the more visible books are, the more likely they are to be read.
8: Set the tone and time.
Have a set time and place each day for book exploring. And make it cozy! Throw some pillows and blankets on the living room floor and plop down with your bin of books. Or tell the kids to race and grab a few books of their choosing and meet back up in your designated location. One of my kids loves reading under the playroom table. You can experiment with this. Read with flashlights in a dark room. Read by candlelight. Read under a tree. Read on the porch. For kids who struggle with this, be sure to set a timer so they know there is an end time. But if your kids are fully enjoying the time, don't worry about the timer.
I absolutely recommend that kids be well-fed and well-exercised BEFORE attempting any reading time. Immediately after school, as you saw on our schedule, is dedicated to a snack and gross motor play, not "sit down and read time." So as you make plans to work these tips into your day, make sure you consider what's best for your kiddos and what works for your family.
Also, here are tips on how to raise a reader without using electronics.