Looking for quality time with your kids? Read to them!

I think that one of the best parts about being a parent is getting to read bedtime stories for my children. Erik is 15 now and I haven’t read much for him since he took over and finished the last Harry Potter book on his own, but we managed to get through the 6 previous ones and many, many others prior to that point. Johanna is 12 and is also quite a voracious reader, but it warms my heart that she still asks for me to read a chapter for her at bedtime.

It isn’t just the dry recitation of text that makes it fun for us both. With a book in hand (especially one that I am familiar with) I have a license to act, to give each character their own voice. To range from a whisper to a shout. To sing when appropriate. To explain difficult or arcane words. To share a laugh or a tear as necessary.

Right now Johanna and I are in the midst of Tom Sawyer. Twain’s ear for dialect is delectable, and I can’t read Aunt Polly without sounding like my own Aunt Polly, or better yet, my 93 year-old Grandma, since a pre-depression Oklahoma accent that I know and love is as close as I can get to a genteel 1840’s Missouri matron. Erik still sneaks in for a listen every once in a while, even though he has heard this one before.

Of course, better subject matter makes a difference, but reading almost anything is better than not reading at all. Tailor it to the kid and their interests. Erik likes and does well with science, and I’d like to think that an enthusiastic rendition several years ago of “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson might have something to do with that. Of course, we wouldn’t have gotten to that one if we hadn’t already established a relationship with that author through “A Walk in The Woods” and other fun stories.

You can even use movies to drive an interest in books. My sister Amanda (the best gift-giver on the face of the earth) bought Johanna the first three books of the Percy Jackson series, so we made sure to read “The Lightning Thief” before seeing the movie. As a result, the two of us have had a ton of fun talking about how that movie sabotaged the series. Fun that a 45 year-old father and his 12 year-old daughter might not otherwise have had together.

I’m having fun with this now, but I’m also looking at it as an investment in our individual and collective futures. By showing them that they are worth my time I let them know that they are valued. Doing my best to keep an audience of one interested might just give them some ideas about how to do that for themselves when the time comes for them to make presentations in class or at work. Helping them to expand their minds and vocabularies might give them an advantage that they might not otherwise have.

I’m also hoping that strengthening the bonds between us now might also help us remember how much we care about each other deep down when the inevitable conflicts of puberty and young adulthood sweep between us. There are many ways to show your kids that you care. Reading for them just happens to be one of my favorites. I’m interested to know what works for you. Think about it and let me know if you can.


Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 12:04am

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