To instill in your child both a love and lifelong habit of reading, you will likely find it helpful to enlist the support of your community. One way to do this is by asking other adults to read to your children outside of the home, as well.
Children look both to their own parents and to other trusted adults to determine their norms, so when you read aloud as a family and this practice is reinforced in other settings, books are firmly established as being an integral part of the fabric of our lives and relationships. Reading aloud with other people in the community can also help children recognize that it is much more than just an activity parents do to help them fall asleep at night. Likewise, reading is not necessarily a solitary activity that removes us from others. Reading – particularly reading aloud – should ultimately bring people together, forming the basis for shared experience, as well as shared conversation and thought.
If your children’s grandparents are active in their lives, you can begin by asking them to read aloud to your children before bed or for a quieter afternoon activity. In our experience, reading aloud with grandparents can create wonderful memories for all parties involved. When we were growing up, my older brother and I absolutely loved going over to our grandmother’s house, which was 5 miles away, and spending time with her. She read to us at every visit and we still cherish the books we read with her, as well as the memories we have of reading them together. (A list of our all-time favorites from her house is at the bottom of this post!)
If your child’s grandparents don’t have children’s books in their house already, consider giving them some to keep for when your children visit. Let them know that reading aloud to your children is important to you and why. You could even ask them what some of their favorite books were when they were growing up and then use a resource like AbeBooks to find copies. If you have purchased one of our ebook treasuries, you may share it with one set of grandparents at no extra charge. Contact us here for more information.
Next, whenever you hire babysitters, be proactive about setting books out for them to read to your children before bed, and let them know that this is an important routine in your family. If your babysitters are young enough to still live with their parents or are now in possession of their childhood books, you could even ask them to bring one or two of their favorite books from when they were your child’s age to read aloud before bed. (We bet they’ll actually be thrilled to do this.)
You can ask older children to read to their younger siblings, as well as enlist the help of aunts, uncles, the parents of your children’s friends during sleepovers, etc. – really, anyone who is an influential figure in your child’s life or who regularly spends time with them, is fair game. We’ve also found that most schools, churches, and synagogues offer numerous read-aloud opportunities for children.
Most public libraries host regular read-aloud events for children of all ages. You can check out your local library’s website to find out what they offer, and if you don’t like what you see, contact their children’s desk to suggest better titles or to get more involved.
Lastly, if your children are older, two great resources to investigate are universities and local bookstores. Both often hold readings that are open to the public and that can serve as an introduction to new titles, authors, and even genres. Sometimes coffee shops will also host poetry nights (which still count as read-alouds in our book), and many theatres will periodically hold “stage readings,” where you can watch and listen to a troupe of actors read a play aloud, with no or minimal costumes and movement.
Please let us know in a comment below what strategies have worked for your family and what suggestions you have for other parents who are hoping to raise their child in a read-aloud community!
When we were growing up, our Greek grandmother – Giagia – kept a shelf of books just to read to her grandchildren. She didn’t have many books, but the books she had were outstanding and ones that we loved wholeheartedly. Some of our all-time favorites were Corgiville Fair – which I’m fairly certain we asked our grandmother to read to us every time we came over – and Jennie’s Hat. We also read the Dr. Dolittle and several L. Frank Baum books with her, and as we grew older, she would periodically order new titles from the Dover Children’s Thrift Classics, like The Boy Who Drew Cats for us to read together. (My brother and I found secret delight in the fact that her corgi, Bandit, was fond of gnawing the Dover books when no one was looking so their bindings often looked rather the worse for wear.) In all, reading aloud with our grandmother was a wonderful experience and gave us memories we both treasure to this day.
As I’ve grown older, finding time to read independently as an adult has become progressively more difficult. This is due in part to an increase in responsibilities and time commitments, but it is also due to my own habits and attitude toward reading. Now that I’m no longer reading my way through the Western Canon for school, or reading as preparation for teaching English classes, I often find myself feeling guilty over the time I do spend curled up with a good book. At some unidentifiable point in time, I mistakenly began to think of reading as an indulgence, rather than a necessity.
But reading is just as important for adults as it is for children, regardless of our other obligations. It may not be something we are required to do each day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t – and shouldn’t – treat it as such. And the rewards of reading are endless: it educates us, kindles our imaginations, enables us to experience more expansive thought, requires us to engage in serious self-reflection, inspires us to strive for excellence, and serves as a continual reminder that there is more to the world that what is immediately before us. In short, it is both magical and life changing.
So, without further ado, here are our suggestions for finding (i.e. carving out) time to read as an adult.
Audiobooks can be a wonderful resource. While not a replacement for reading books, they are certainly worth exploring as a complement to your other reading practices. To give you some ideas, I enjoy listening to audiobooks when I’m walking to campus or downtown to the library, and while I’m doing household chores like cooking, folding laundry, washing the dishes, etc. They are ideal for times when whatever I’m doing is completely incompatible with reading but I still want something to occupy my mind.
Depending on the length, I’ve found that I can usually get through an audiobook every one to three weeks this way. The key seems to be selecting books that have excellent narrators and are, by nature, highly engaging. I also tend to prefer listening to authors whose language is more concise but reading books by authors who utilize more complex language. Audible, LibriVox, and Internet Archive are just a few of the many great programs available for audiobooks.
If you are someone who likes to keep a “to do” list for each day, write down your reading “assignment” the night before. This is a good way to start shifting your mindset from thinking of reading as an activity you get to do only if you have extra time to thinking of it as something that you need to do nearly every day, regardless of circumstance.
If it helps, you can even treat reading like a chore – not in the sense that it is onerous, but in the sense that it something that you need to keep up with on a regular basis. Keeping your goal easily attainable is also helpful, so I’ll often write down “Read 10 pages of ______” on my to do list, knowing full well that once I start reading, I’ll likely keep going.
Instead of spending that unexpected 5 to 10 minutes of waiting time on your phone, read your book instead!
Most of us have received at least one book that we are not even vaguely interested in from someone who knows how much we love to read. Although you may feel obliged to, you do not need to read these books! Your reading time is too precious to waste on a book you don’t find valuable, especially if the attempt will cause you to procrastinate from reading or even avoid the activity altogether.
Alternatively, if the book is one you do intend to read, you don’t need to do so immediately. When I receive a book as a gift I’ll often say something along the lines of “thank you so much, I can’t wait to read this someday. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get to it this winter, but I will certainly short-list it for the future.” Then, when you get around to reading the book, be sure to let that person know so you can talk about it together!
This can be helpful in maintaining your enthusiasm for reading and your reading momentum, especially because there are likely books that you want to read but not read every day, or books that you don’t want to read more than a few pages of at a time. When I have 3 or 4 books going at a time, the odds that I can’t wait to keep reading at least one of them at any given time are much higher than the odds with just one.
For a long time I was a book purist and resisted the digital book trend. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I read a digital edition of a book, but I just wasn’t into it. Eventually my mom got me a Kindle for Christmas and I immediately fell in love with it. It’s the perfect size for traveling, and I’ve even taken it on numerous backpacking trips since it doesn’t require a flashlight or headlamp to use. It’s also ideal for times when you want to turn the light on to read but your significant other is still sleeping. (The one I have is now 5 years old and apparently indestructible. Doing anything in the Kindle store requires significant patience, but once a book is downloaded, the actual reading function works smoothly and the battery lasts for weeks, even in cold weather.)
If you do have access to a tablet or smartphone for reading, be sure to take advantage of your local library’s digital collection, or subscribe to one online. Most public libraries have fairly extensive digital collections where you can electronically “borrow” ebooks for weeks at a time. You can even place yourself on a wait list for a given book and adjust your settings so that the title will automatically download to your device as soon as it becomes available! If you are looking specifically for children’s books, Gateway to the Classics also offers hundreds of titles from the golden age of children’s literature. (You can also gain access to regular free ebook downloads by subscribing to our blog here.)
Numerous studies have examined the negative effects that blue light emission from smartphones can have on melatonin production and the quality of your sleep. Reading before bed instead of spending time facing a screen can make it significantly easier for you to fall – and stay – asleep, with the added benefit of giving you extra time to read! It’s both a lovely bedtime routine, and an easy way to improve your “sleep hygiene.”
If you do shift work or have a regularly scheduled lunchtime, reading can be a great break-time activity. Depending on your line of work this may be more or less difficult, but if you are able to take a break of 10 minutes or more, try reading just a few pages during that time. I especially recommend it if you are an introvert working in a highly social setting – those few pages can offer a good deal of solace during an otherwise hectic day. (I did this both as a teacher with frequent interruptions, and also during clinical shift work where I had a 30-minute lunch break in the afternoons. In both cases it was something I looked forward to each day and something that greatly re-energized me.)
You don’t need to wake up at five am to find reading time each day, nor do you have to read before bed or during your lunch break if those aren’t feasible times for you. However, do start paying attention to the small gaps in your schedule and the times that are conducive to reading and take advantage of them as you can. If you can find time to read for ten minutes a day, two or three times a day, do that. It’s a starting place that demonstrates your commitment to reading and twenty or thirty minutes of reading is far better than zero.
There’s absolutely no reason you can’t meet up with a friend at a coffee shop or have someone over just to read. People study together, so why shouldn’t they also read together, either independently or aloud? This can also be a romantic way to spend time with your significant other. I had a college professor who once told me that she and her husband read War and Peace aloud together before bed over the course of about a year and that it was an experience they will both cherish forever.
Our final suggestion is to maintain a “to consider reading” list. This list is meant to include the diverse books that you hear about on a podcast or in an off-hand comment from a friend, and it should be long, un-curated, and include titles from a wide range of categories. It is intended as a resource for when you are in a literary dry spell and simply need inspiration. Return to it whenever you want to read something new, but aren’t sure what to pick up next. As a note: you definitely do not need to read all of these books during your lifetime, nor should you attempt to do so; simply maintain the list as a large resource pool and use it on an as-needed basis.
What other ideas would you all add to this list? Please let us know in a comment below what your most successful strategies have been for finding time to read independently as an adult!