I didn’t love reading — until I started reading to my kids

Things We Love

January 21, 2020

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Growing up, I never loved reading. If I had to choose between a good book and catching up with a friend (or six), I’d choose the friends every time.

I could never sit still enough to finish a book, and despite my saintly mother’s best efforts to impart a love of literature, I still loved Charlotte Russe far more than Charlotte Bronte—and War and Peace sounded like a summary of the life I was already living with seven brothers tearing through my childhood home. 

I’d go out of my way to avoid books, even on my family’s weekly trips to the library, skipping off to see the latest music hits in the CD section while my siblings stacked their arms with books.

My attitude towards books didn’t change much in college, where I majored in hospitality management with an emphasis in real-life social networking, forgetting that the on campus library existed! Several years later I married the love of my life, who ironically loves to read, and we welcomed our four children back-to-back in four years. 

And then preschool happened

As you can imagine, those sleepless nights, endless feeding sessions, and countless diaper changes didn’t allow time for reading either, until one day, we found ourselves having “the talk” about pre-school. 

We decided to homeschool. You would think that being homeschooled myself I would have been calm, cool, and collected at the thought. But even though I knew this was best for our family, I was certainly not immune to the societal pressures plastered on billboards and signs. “Is your child ready for kindergarten?” and “Preschool Admissions Test available now!” (No, seriously.

The pressure to have a perfectly rounded, non-GMO, organic, free range, ready-for-Harvard-at-age-4 child took hold of my heart and I began to panic.   

Naturally, I hopped on social media to ask some friends about resources they used when beginning their homeschool journey. The veteran homeschool mothers recommended Sarah Mackenzie, founder of the popular podcast and blog, Read-Aloud Revival.  

I began reading Sarah’s latest book, The Read-Aloud Family, and much to my surprise I couldn’t put it down. Not only did it quell my fears of whether or not I was capable of teaching my own child, it inspired me to begin reading aloud to my children every day, forgetting about the preschool entrance exam and whether or not they’d be “ready” for kindergarten.

Right away, I found myself highlighting this statement by the 1985 Commission on Reading: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” 

Reading aloud to children. “I might not love books, but I love to talk, and I love children. I think I can handle that combo!” I mused. 

I was equally fascinated (and encouraged) when Sarah referenced research which showed, “the more children are read to, the higher their test scores are—sometimes by as much as half a year’s schooling. This was true regardless of a family’s income…reading aloud has proven to be so powerful in increasing a child’s academic success that it is more effective than expensive tutoring or even private education.” 

The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. 

1985 Commission on Reading

Reading aloud is actually a sort of “magic pill,” she says, citing Dr. Joseph Price:  “One extra day per week of parent-child read-aloud sessions during the first ten years of a child’s life increases standardized test scores by half a standard deviation. That’s as many as 15-30 percentile points—a tremendous gain.” 

Aside from the staggering statistics, what convinced me the most was how the “Read-Aloud Revival” came to be within the walls of Sarah’s own home. Her life was so relatable, as a busy mom with young kids, with little to no energy left to add one more thing to the docket. 

But Sarah encouragingly shared, “It is on days like these when the power of reading aloud really shines. It requires so very little of me other than sitting down and reading words on a page. The book does the work for me …The stories we read together act as a bridge when we can’t seem to find another way to connect.” 

Reading out loud was transformative

Our inaugural year of homeschooling started before I was ready, but instead of feeling anxious about being properly equipped I felt confident that I could handle preschool simply through reading out loud to my brood. 

I was determined to make reading a fun activity for all of us and my small efforts paid off immensely. We started reading for a few minutes here and there, in between meal times or diaper changes and eventually it became everyone’s favorite part of the day.

Even though my kids range in ages and interest levels, we always found common ground in the stories we read and the age gap no longer mattered. A five-year-old can enjoy an infant’s book and vice versa if it is read with love and perhaps a bag of goldfish crackers to go with it! 

We created priceless connections through morning snuggles with Llama Llama Red Pajama, afternoon giggles with The Pout Pout Fish and sleepy, evening yawns with Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site. 

Wherever we found ourselves reading together on any given day—inside a blanket fort, next to the fireplace, at the breakfast table, on a picnic blanket eating fast food, or in the minivan catching audio-books in between Costco and Aldi—learning was no longer checking a box on a syllabus, but an adventure with one another.

Despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy books before I began reading out loud to my kids, once I started, I fell in love with reading for the relationship it gave me with my children.

While we have since given some additional structure to our school days to fit the needs of our growing kids, reading out loud together remains a top priority each day. Even on my worst days when my patience is worn thin and I can’t recreate a Hallmark-movie-atmosphere for reading (read: more often than not), I can still pick up a book and find a moment to connect with my kids. 

Reading out loud doesn’t require a mom who has her act together. It requires two lips for speaking, a heart for loving, and a lap for sitting. You might be amazed by how many kids you can fit in your lap and the capacity of love your heart can hold. 

We recently moved to a new town and I was invited to join a group called, The Well Read Mom. I laughed to myself as I thought, “if only they knew me!”

But in my musing I stopped to realize that while I may not be the most well-read mom by their standards, I’ve read more books these past two years than I’ve read in my entire life. Even though the books I’ve read were meant for children, they’ve changed me.

I hope you’ll allow them to change you, too.

Reading out loud doesn’t require a mom who has her act together. It requires two lips for speaking, a heart for loving, and a lap for sitting. You might be amazed by how many kids you can fit in your lap and the capacity of love your heart can hold. 

Comments +

  1. Gena Bohn says:

    I am just beginning my journey with Well Read Mom. Little Women was the first book for me. Did you get through it? I enjoyed your post. It made me laugh and brought a smile to my face. Thank you!

  2. Claire says:

    I love this – thanks for sharing, Ellen!! Readers who enjoy Sarah McKenzie’s work should also check out Meghan Cox Gurdon’s great book The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction.

  3. Dad says:

    Endorsed 110%
    XO

    Dad

  4. Stephanie says:

    Love this! Sarah Mackenzie is awesome. Reading aloud has always been a big part of our family life. I love how it brings my kids and I together and is so easy to do, even on hard days.

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