There’s magic in that evening hour before bed. It’s one of my favorite daily moments. Yes, we have our meltdowns some nights. We spend 15 minutes begging the kids to brush their teeth and take their bath on time. But once complete, we can get to our favorite activity. It’s not just the calm after the (bedtime) storm, but the calm after the (daytime) storm, too.
It’s family read aloud time. I cuddle up with my babies on the couch and we read a story together, transporting us to far-off places, the weight of the day long forgotten.
Afterwards we’re able to drift off into dreamland much easier—with a head full of magical spells, friendships, carpet rides, sorting hats, wizarding worlds, beasts, and belles. My babies wake up the next morning refreshed and happier, looking forward to our evening cuddle time when we can do it all again—telling me so when they wake up. Today my babies are seven and almost nine years old.
The norm is to read aloud to young children.
Most parents read aloud to their younger children nightly. We all have it practically etched in stone as part of our bedtime routines: bath, brush, book, bed. When young kids aren’t yet reading independently, we don’t question the need to read aloud to them. It’s either books with Mom and Dad, or no books at all.
Then they begin reading fluently and independently. Our bedtime routines transition from read aloud to independent reading time. While silent reading is undeniably important, the subsequent bonding that comes from reading aloud with a parent is missing.
But what if older kids also needed us to read aloud with them? What if we kept reading together, long after they hit that independent reading milestone?
I’ve found throughout my life as a student, former elementary school teacher, and mother that reading aloud together is one of the greatest bonding experiences. It not only fosters a love of reading—and all the benefits that go along with it—but also a love of spending quality time together. This then translates to trust, friendship, and bonding over other things as well.
I still remember read aloud moments from my childhood.
Like most teachers, my fourth grade teacher had us read after lunch. But he did it differently. After we read independently for a bit, we all listened to him read from a novel together.
While we sat on his circle rug, he’d read to us in his rocking chair. The books he chose were meant to entertain us. They weren’t meant to teach, impart wisdom or growth, or gauge some educational discussion. It was simply for fun—to laugh, forget the difficulties of long division, and regain sustenance for the science experiments ahead.
We braided each other’s hair and laughed as we heard the mischief of Fudge with his brother Peter Hatcher. It was on this rug that I was introduced to a sideways school called Wayside that was built 30 stories high with one room on each story—instead of one story high with 30 rooms in a row (the builder said he was very sorry).
These were my and my friends’ favorite moments of the school day. We didn’t dread lunch and recess ending. We knew we were headed inside to more fun after we left the swing set.
The ease of the conversations that followed never dawned on me that perhaps he was purposely reading aloud to gain our trust and foster a communal bond. But among my many years of schooling, it’s the conversations and laughs on this circle rug that stick out to me.
When I became a teacher, the first thing I did was buy a rocking chair and a rug.
After that, I purchased my first novel set for my classroom. I’d known what it was going to be since the day I’d registered for college: Sideways Stories From Wayside School. I wanted to create for my students that same ambiance my fourth grade teacher had . . . that time of relaxation, bonding, and community within my classroom.
We laughed and talked about that series and so many others. Because I wasn’t grading them or using this time as a means to visibly foster some educational discussion, my students consequently opened up to me—and we became friends.
When I became a parent, the first thing I did was buy a rocking chair and a bookshelf.
When I read aloud to my two-month-old daughter from the many board books I’d filled her bookshelf with when I was pregnant, I was sometimes mocked. “You’re reading to a two month old? She can barely see the pages!”
I knew this, of course. But I also knew that babies who often hear spoken words have a tendency to be more verbal and social later on. I knew from experience that in order to foster a love of reading, one had to start early, like any other skill.
More importantly, I knew these moments in that rocking chair holding my baby girl were ones I wanted to make habitual. I wanted her to recognize them in our routine as she grew, and look forward to them. I hoped they’d open the doors to many other bonding moments between her and I.
Today, we’ve moved from the rocking chair to the couch.
As I now have two little bookworms, we’ve moved our read-aloud sessions from our single seat rocking chair to our living room couch. (The rocking chair has since been donated to my sister-in-law for her own read-aloud sessions with our nephew.)
These nightly read alouds are like a favored television show we look forward to. Now that they’re older, we’re able to read some of my favorite childhood novels. Afterwards, we can truly spend hours discussing them the next day, building our friendship. Even my husband joins in, as he secretly also wants to know what happens between Harry and Voldemort. These family read alouds have fostered other bonding sessions too, since many novels have been turned into movies and entertainment activities.
And pro tip—most audiobooks can be found for free on Youtube. This way everyone can follow along without wearing out their voice from long reading sessions. Because trust me, there will be long reading sessions. Harry’s adventures are so mesmerizing that I can’t help it when they ask, “Please—just one more chapter!”
So tomorrow night when you’re directing your older kids as they get ready for bed—amidst that bath and tooth-brushing argument—consider telling them, “When you’re done, let’s pick out a novel to read together.” This special moment is guaranteed to become the favorite time of day for both of you. It will transport you to magical places—as you get lost in the story, and in each other.