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Reading to Your Kids

May 05, 2010 | By Derek Webster

Simply put, there isn't a bad time for story time. As a parent or caregiver to a curious young mind, the greatest goal on the agenda is finding the time to read.

Mother reading personalized book to childWith a lifetime's worth of creativity and exploration at stake, parents can too often forget the most important (and useful) aspect of reading to their children: having fun!

There are worlds waiting to be built, one word at a time – entire histories (and fantasies) begging for a proper introduction. A full and varied library of materials exists to sate (or spark) the interest in every flavor of childhood curiosity: the mystery of science, the inspiration of nature, the wonder of the heart, and yes, even the simple pleasure of a well turned tale. It's all there, stacked up on a shelf, or one click of a search engine away… except for one little wrinkle.


Ah, that pesky little beast is at it again, that great bounder of all things subject to reality. Good parents who only want the best for their kids can’t escape this one simple fact: there are a limited number of hours in each day, and only seven of those per week. No amount of scheduling will add an hour to the clock.

So, accepting that even a commodity as full and enriching as reading to kids takes time, it becomes necessary to look at a few of the daily opportunities that might otherwise go missed.

Mother reading personalized children's book to son

The Bedtime Story

As seen in wonderfully sappy movies, imagined at the base of every fairy-tale, and perhaps even attempted to tepid result. A staple of the nightly “put the kids to bed” ritual, the bedtime story enjoys many shapes and sizes: with or without a book; a single tale promised or an "until they pass out" litany. It can be acted out with Shakespearean vigor or plowed through with single-minded determination.

Like any other story time, the nighttime variety offers a fantastic opportunity for parent and child to bond. Unlike many other points throughout the day, however, the bedtime story can often afford the chance to slow down and better enjoy that process. Without the weight of immediate schedule a parent can let the story, and the experience of it, breathe a little bit:

  • Try asking the child where the story was left off the night before.
  • Try having the child jump ahead in his mind and guess at what excitement the next chapter might bring.
  • Try going back to reread the parts most enjoyed (or, conversely, those not fully understood).

These and other exercises like them can allow bedtimes stories to naturally branch out and deepen. With a little patience they can help the experience morph into something that parents, as well as their children, look forward to with genuine anticipation.

The Morning Grind

Whether the primary caregiver day in and day out, or assigned a certain window of extended responsibility, there can come a time in each day when the care for children wears down even the most seasoned parent. There's no shame in this. It is an unfortunate but practical reality of life. When pressed up against a harrowing moment (children screaming, food untouched, so much to accomplish and none of it within reach), a parent need only take a deep breath and conjure up this small but helpful mantra:

When all else fails, read.

Mother reading personalized story book at kitchen table

And then go to it. See what happens. Sometimes the screaming has moved past the reach of words, the food is a total loss, and that unforgiving schedule just has to be kept. But sometimes, and when it works it does seem quite miraculous, the momentary horrors of reality will dissolve in the face of a parent reading with her child.

At the very worst, one more delay has been added to an already derailed day. Certainly that risk is worth the chance to cram a bit of unscheduled goodness into a renegade stretch of the morning. It is, after all, the small triumphs that add up to a day well lived.

Reading the Scraps

It seems laughable, at first, but give it a moment. There are scraps of time in each day that tempt a parent to find a moment's procrastination: glancing at the paper over breakfast; checking the news/stocks/TV schedule; mucking about with an article (not unlike this very one) online. A caregiver needs these tiny little breaks. They are healthy and necessary and befitting the station of a sane adult.

So read them.

What? How's that? It is simpler than it sounds. When a parent has an itching to read something, what's to stop him from reading it aloud? Now, obviously, given the relative dryness and obscurity of the material (with the exclusion of this article, of course) kids are unlikely to engage such an effort. In fact, it shouldn’t prove surprising if the first attempts are met with fast movement in the opposite direction. But reading is reading, and words strung together to share a thought will always conjure a thing capable of engaging on some level.

One very important, and oft overlooked, aspect of teaching children to read is teaching them that reading is important. Children need to see their parents reading. How much better if they see their parents trying to engage them even while thumbing through scraps.

When trying to find the time for story time, every little bit counts. Whether at bedtime, patched into trouble spots throughout the day, or simply poking and prodding around the edges, the opportunity for a parent to read to their children is invaluable. With a careful survey, and a little patience, the chances will present themselves.

And then it will be time, of course, to find the right books to read.

About the author:
Derek Webster graduated from Yale University, where he split his time between studying esoteric film narrative and getting his face pounded as Captain of the Yale Rugby Football team. A decade spent in the Hollywood film industry was highlighted by his two year run as columnist for Screentalk Magazine, and the establishment of a successful story consultation service, Creation-Point.
Returned to Connecticut, Derek continues as a freelance writer and story editor. When he’s not watching his precocious little girls grow up way too fast, he is known to procrastinate away many an hour scouring the internet for worthy material.
Read more of Derek's writing on his blog,

Tags : reading, finding time, bedtime story, story time, children, kids, parents, books

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