As humans, we tend to be creatures of habit. How many of us wake up in the morning and reach for our phones and scroll through our social media? Who can’t function without a morning cup of coffee or tea? We know it’s important to make exercise and healthy eating habitual, though it’s easier for some than others! In the age of technology, it is estimated that people spend a minimum of four hours a day on their phones, scanning social media, reading comments, getting work done, chatting with friends, watching videos, making phone calls, etc. Like I said, our technology usage is typically very habitual, if not constant. Often our excuse as to why we cannot begin a new habit (such as cooking dinner each night or making it to the gym), and yet somehow, amongst all the business of our lives, we are setting aside 4 hours of our day each day to engage with technology. I know not all of our tech time is unproductive, and owning a smartphone, tablet, and/or laptop has become a necessity for a lot of us. That being said, one habit we cannot let slip through our fingers is setting aside time to read books. Read to ourselves, each other, our children, our pets, whoever it takes! Why, though? Why is building a reading routine such a necessity for us and for our children?
First, keeping healthy routines breeds discipline, and this discipline can be used in other facets of our lives. One of my favorite speeches is by Admiral William McRaven. He was a commencement speaker at the University of Texas in 2014. He speaks about the importance of making your bed every day, and asserts that making your bed every day can “change the world”. Watch the video here. He believes that completing that simple task means that you start your day already a success, and you set yourself up for a day of productivity. Building habits can take hard work. I know for myself, I wish my routines felt more natural and not so forced. I tend to start weeks or days really strong and then things come up and my routines fall apart. Some research suggests it takes a minimum of 21 days to build simple habits, such as drinking enough water each day or waking up earlier, and longer for more complex and variable habits, like going to the gym, or organizing consistent family dinner. If we can directly model for our children discipline and self-control, and transfer that responsibility to them when they are old enough, we are setting them up to be able to apply that discipline to other areas of their life.
Further, our brain is a muscle. If we don’t push our brain, the connections and neural pathways will remain constant or static, and then when it comes time to learn new things, we will be likely to feel more overwhelmed, and at times it can even be harder to learn. There is consistently a market for “brain games” that promote this idea. Things like crosswords, word search, and puzzle apps remain wildly popular as a way to keep our brains active. One of the best ways to promote brain growth and development is to read. Reading diverse texts at varying levels of difficulty engages our brain and keeps it active and strong. Reading before bed induces better sleep habits. If you don’t feel like the best reader, the one surefire way to improve is to read more. Find a text that seems simple, but engages you in some way, and start there, slowing increasing the difficulty. People that read tend to have more emotional intelligence as well. Reading about different people and regions of the world, in different styles of writing (poetry, fiction, non-fiction) opens our minds to others and helps us to be more empathetic. This can lead us to be more successful in business and relationships. I read a statistic once that the average millionaire reads 12 books a year, and successful CEOs read more.
So what if we could not only create better reading habits for ourselves but also create a structured environment for our children to do that as well. Talk about setting them up for success! In grad school, we learned about the importance of building Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) into our classrooms, and one thing they taught us is to read while the kids are reading. that can be scary for a new teacher. It is terrifying to look away from your students, even for a second, so the idea of fully engaging in a text during a silent expectation is daunting. However, the payout is greater than any minor misbehavior.
When raising or educating children, the saying “it’s not what you say, its what you do that’s important” could not be more relevant. It has been proven that children will mimic behavior that they see faster and more accurately than they will follow directions. If we want them to have strong reading habits, we have to have them too. I know I have a lot of work to do in this area for sure. As I write this and reflect, I want to leave this cafe and go straight to the library and check out a bunch of books; immediately. It is super important to provide a structured space for our children to engage with books and to offer it at a consistent time. When isn’t important. Whatever works for you and your family. Try first thing, before naptime, before/after dinner, or right before bed, and choose the time that makes the more sense for the rest of your schedule, and don’t give up! Remember, building this habit is complex and thus will take at least a month of really hard work and consistency to establish.
When our kids are little, reading to them is going to be the best way to build this routine. You can’t really expect an 18-month-old to sit and look at their book for 30 min to an hour while you read yours, at least not at first. What I do is have two sets of children’s books. I have board books and paper books and they serve two distinct purposes. My girls are 1 and 2.5 and are not to be trusted with books by themselves, so board books are used for independent reading, and paper books for story time. I let my toddler look at board books on her own for a while and then I will sit down and read one with her or take out a paper book to read together. The little one will “read” independently as well, it is just not as long before I need to engage with her to sustain her attention. Your catalog of children’s books does not actually have to be exhaustive as rereading the same text over is actually very beneficial for kids. Make sure you go to a comfortable, consistent space (a beanbag chair in a bedroom, the couch, a cozy window seat), at a regular, expected time. Meaning, you don’t have to drop everything and read exactly at 9:05 every day, but if you read every day after lunch, this will help both you and your child to anticipate and predict the reading time. Finally, try to make time to talk about your books. Ask your children about theirs, and even tell them about yours. This will normalize a “reading culture” that also sets the standard for discussion about what you read. This will set them up beautifully for school, where this will be the expectation.
Good luck! Drop your reading tips and book recommendations in the comments!