Family Read-Aloud Time

I have a totally unrealistic dream. I imagine me sitting in a chair with an enchanting, living book in hand reading to my three sweet boys who are playing or drawing peacefully and quietly, attentive to the beautiful story, absorbing its language and its richness. I’m sure my husband is laughing across cyberspace quipping to himself, “Maybe I should introduce her to our children.”

I  would love to establish a family read aloud time for longer chapter books, but my attempts thus far have failed unless we are in the car and I am not driving (which happens rarely on the weekends), though we do love to listen to books on cd from the library in the car. I have books upon books that I can’t wait to share with the big boys, who are eager to listen, but we are usually derailed by our 2 year old who is never just content to sit and play with playdoh or do anything, really, that doesn’t involve physical contact with his brothers. If I put him in the pack’n’play he either climbs out or screams.

At home I can rarely make it a sentence or two without some conflict that requires resolution. If we read outside in the tree house, we may make it through the paragraph. My question is how do you handle family read-aloud chapter book time with littles? I mean specific logistics (Really, do you tie your 2 year old up with your 6 year old’s jump rope?) Do you wait until the chief-instigator-2-year-old is asleep (this doesn’t work for us as our biggest boy goes to bed the earliest)? Just wondering if I’m missing some obvious solution!

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  • AWOL Mommy

    Does he nap? My 5 and I do a lot of the crafty girly stuff while 2-yr-old insaneo naps. My (pipe) dream is that his maturing process will mean that just as he is too old for a nap, his attention span will be long enough to do projects alongside his big sister. Or, we also do “special Daddy read-aloud time” at night. This means that my husband will be in one room reading a book aloud to anyone who is patient and calm enough to listen, otherwise, the rambunctious one has to leave the room and go build a train track or help mom with the dishes. Good luck, if all else fails, I support the jump rope.

  • readingmama

    We’d been doing this for years and what works for us is doing it before bedtime. I have one that is 14 months and have been doing it since my 3.5 year old was a baby. Everyone is in their pajamas with teeth brushed and clothes put away.

    The big kids sit in bed or look at picture books and I sit in the rocking chair holding or nursing a baby. When they are toddlers they tend to get down and play around in the room but they are contained. There are a few books and toys for them to play with but usually they just like to be snuggled while I read. I go put the baby to bed after the bid kids get the story. When my daughter was 2 she would just be in bed (not a crib so she could get in and out) with her own book or snuggling with me. We’re about to split the big kids into two rooms but I think we will stay reading in the room with the twin over full bunkbed since it fits a lot of bodies!

    Of course if bedtime is late this can all become totally chaotic with much wailing and gnashing of teeth and the story gets cut short. But I have found that the story is very anticipated and it helps with bedtime dawdling. Plus, it requires that I be more disciplined about getting people to bed. I have always had a child that needs sleep but has a hard time settling down and even though she was still awake during all this stuff she would already be in relaxed mode when we got to storytime. I forgot to add that I use a small reading light so it isn’t too bright in there…no overheads!

  • I do longer chapter read-alouds during the day when my 2 yo is napping. My husband has a second book going for the older ones at night (they go to bed 1/2 hour later than 2 yo). But the other time that I read aloud to the kids is at breakfast. It seriously helps with the naughty table behavior. I’ve been doing it more now in the summer when we don’t have to rush through breakfast. They are still in their pjs, they take their time eating and just listening. I just eat before they get up or grab something later. They love having me read to them through meals.

    If none of those ideas work, here are some others you could try…
    –give the 2 yo a special treat in the high chair…like a frozen popsicle of juice or let him play with jello paints in the high chair. If the olders quip about that, just tell them they can have something special after the story and it’s just for the 2yo.
    –water play. If I put my 2yo on a stool, put water in the kitchen sink and give him plastic cups, spoons, etc, he’ll play there for an hour or so. If you don’t have a comfy reading spot for the olders near enough to your kitchen, bring some pillows in and camp out on the floor so you can still keep an eye on your 2yo.
    –you could do the same idea outside, get a bucket of water for the 2 yo and hang out on a blanket with the olders nearby.
    –video? Would your 2yo watch a video in another room for 20 mins or so?

    The other thing is that your 2 yo is old enough to be starting to learn to respect quiet times. Start small. Read shorter stories as group read-alouds and practice with him. Read lots to your 2yo separate so he gets the idea of quiet during stories. It will get better, he just needs practice.

  • Right Said Red

    We do longer read alouds at bedtime in the 1/2 hour after the baby and often-times the toddler is asleep. Since our toddler has been staying up a bit later recently, I have been trying (and failing) to do them with all three older children. This usually involves some discipline (threats!) towards toddler. I let him know he will go to bed immediately if he is disruptive, and I give him some books of his own and some toys. My 4 year old still isn’t very interested in chapter books, so he usually winds up just wiggling around or playing with small toys. As a result, I tend to just stick with reading longer books to my oldest (6), and keep shorter stories for the two boys.

    So my two suggestions–nap time or bed time for the toddler.

  • Like Red, we often do it after the baby and toddler are asleep. I also read aloud at meals sometimes, which makes it easier because everyone is contained. For reading during the day, the toddler is often playing nearby with a car or blocks, so he can kind of drift in and out. I read to him by himself at his bedtime so that he has the habit of sitting in my lap and listening to a short book. I expect much less as far as attention span from my younger ones than I did when my first two were toddlers.

  • I’ll put in another nighttime vote. Our little guy is starting to get onto reading with his big brothers and can usually sit still for some shorter stories. Otherwise, he’s in the room and playing while the older ones are listening. This has just started working out–usually GG and I are in “divide and conquer” mode at bedtime–he with the older two and me with the youngest, each of us reading age-appropriate books to each set of kids. I suppose all this will change with the arrival of a new baby, but I’m hoping to start some chapter book reading during our afternoon quiet time while the 2yo naps. Oh, what would we, moms, do without naptime?!

  • Texas Mommy

    Thanks for the great thoughts, ladies! My concern is not with our two year old’s attention span to reading…he is our first real lap-sitter (which I love!) when it comes to reading picture books, usually for hours a day. But if I try to read something that he decides doesn’t interest him, he is on a seek and destroy mission to derail the process, rather than benignly disinterested, which is not too hard given our oldest’s sensory issues.

    Our middle man still naps, and he enjoys listening so I didn’t want to leave him out by reading parts when he’s asleep. I LOVE the suggestion of reading during meals. It’s funny, I was the kid who always wanted to bring a book to the table (or anywhere for that matter) so I had it in my head that one shouldn’t read at the table…it’s not polite! But that applies to reading to oneself, not aloud to the family! I think reading at lunchtime is the obvious solution that I was overlooking! Thank you!

  • I never had nappers — the only one who needs sleep around here seems to be Mom! — so I learned to fill up the little one first. A picture book read-aloud followed by a 10-minute tickle fest, and then a snack, quiet music in the background and some favorite toys to play with usually buys 20-30 minutes of peace.

  • Julia, I think that is great advice for managing the household with younger ones. I do school this way, start with needing the teaching/attention needs of my youngest and work my way up. The older kids can do a work book page or read while I work with the younger ones, and the youngers are more willing to play on their own if they have already had some time with me.