I can see them in the distance. They’re coming for us. If my calculations are correct, they will arrive in four to five years.
Their target? My family.
Their goal? Complete annihilation of our family time.
They are an army of activities: school, piano lessons, video games, after-school jobs, choir, soccer practice, friends, homework, TV, social media, etc. They flood calendars, drowning family dinners, conversations, and togetherness.
I know, I know—I’m being melodramatic. But it’s true: in a few short years, the simple schedule my family enjoys will be a fading memory. As my baby son grows older, his opportunities and obligations (and devices!) will increase, and without a plan, our family time will be the first casualty of busyness and screen time.
So I’m strategizing. Books are a key part of my strategy to preserve our family time and strengthen our relationships. That may seem odd, so let me explain. Massive doses of two ingredients are vital for parent-child relationships: conversation and togetherness. You need to talk about anything and everything, and similarly, you need both quality and quantity time with them. Reading is a fun, easy, and cheap way to get more conversation and togetherness with your children.
You’ve probably seen the commercials that encourage parents to discuss the dangers of drug and alcohol use with their children. Those ads assume you’re delaying difficult conversations. After all, it’s hard to move from, “How was your math test?” to “Have you ever felt pressure to try drugs?”
Discussing books regularly with your kids normalizes conversations about serious topics. Books portray many of the challenges that kids encounter at school, with friends, and in their families. Peer pressure, bullying, learning disabilities, death, loneliness—these issues are common in novels and even in books for younger children. I’d encourage you to craft several open-ended questions that will jump-start conversations with your child about the book she is reading. Here are a few ideas:
- What places in this book do you wish you could visit?
- Which character would you most like to meet in real life?
- Which character do you wish you could be like?
- Is there anything in the story that you would change?
- Would you call the ending a “happy ending”?
- What do you think would happen if the main character came to your school?
In your conversations about books, be aware of what your child’s observations reveal about her own ideas, desires, and insecurities. Be ready to lead the conversation in a more personal direction. Your goal is to know your child more deeply and give her space to open up to you.
Have you noticed how cooking with someone creates a sense of camaraderie? Or how sharing a meal can turn a co-worker into a friend? Or how supporting a friend as she grieves strengthens your relationship with her? Sharing experiences draws us closer to each other. In a small way, books offer many opportunities to share experiences with your children. Here are a few ideas for sharing experiences through reading:
Read a novel aloud together. Choose a novel and schedule a weekly family reading time (put it on your calendar!). Your family will feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally read the last page.
If you’d like more information about the benefits of reading aloud, check out the delightful podcast Read-Aloud Revival. Sarah Mackenzie, who hosts the podcast, is also the author of The Read-Aloud Family, a guidebook for connecting with your children through books.
Tackle a family reading challenge. This is another way you can work together through reading. Set a goal for the number of books your family will read, both individually and together. Decide on a reward you’ll enjoy as a family if you meet your goal, such as a special meal, a trip to the movies, or an evening at the bowling alley. Your kids will be so proud of their efforts towards meeting the challenge!
Travel together through books. Maybe you can’t travel to India as a family, but you can do the next best thing—read a story that takes place there! Once you’ve finished the book, eat at an Indian restaurant or prepare an Indian meal to crown your literary journey.
If you want help finding books that will transport your family to foreign destinations, Jamie C. Martin’s book Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time offers extensive lists of books set in many countries and tips for your global reading adventures.
Maybe you’re thinking, Family reading might work for some kids, but mine would never go for it! You’re not alone. Many children won’t be thrilled to put down their cell phone or leave their Netflix show to listen to a novel. Some kids might be weirded out when you suddenly show interest in what they’re reading. Don’t give up! Spending time with your kids is worth whatever eye-rolling and grumbling you have to endure. With persistence, I think your kids will come to enjoy connecting with you over books. I wish you and your family many bookish adventures together!
Bethany Bowen-Wefuan is a wife, mom, and teacher. After receiving her PhD in German Studies, she began teaching German at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She loves teaching in the college classroom and loves being home with her son Simeon. When he’s napping, she’s either writing or reading.