Monday, March 9, 2015

Family Reading

The house is quiet, the kind of quiet that makes listening easy, when you can hear the softest sounds: a page turning, a little sniff, the sound of someone shifting position In a chair. That's the way reading
time sounds in our house.

There are often little breaks in this quiet, groans of dismay or disgust at who-knows-what predicament, chuckles or outbursts of laughter at the (presumably) hilarious places. I'm barely aware,
though, as I'm engrossed in my own book. This delightful change of pace from the normal clamor of a busy family is a restful and refreshing oasis of time.

It is not family "read-aloud" time, however, but a gathering time, when everyone brings a book of their choice to meet in our living room. Last night, it was Dad in his leather chair, feet propped on the
footstool reading A Morbid Taste for Bones that someone had just urged him to read. My 11-year-old was sprawled (his default position) over most of the sofa with Phantom of the Blockade. His 16-year-old brother was at the far end of it, feet horning in on Dad's footstool with Newton's Principia, a tome he was inspired to tackle on the recommendation of Mr. Bowditch, one of his childhood heroes. Meanwhile, I sat in my grandmother's rocker, miles and years away in the debtor's prison of Victorian London with Little Dorrit.

Sound idyllic? It is. We are together, yet separate; pursuing a common goal, yet doing so independently. In the past, this kind of time was a happy accident that occurred once in a blue moon. I was encouraged to make it a more deliberate pastime when I read in Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook, that the only single common factor that was proved to be effective in causing children to become readers was when a 15-minutes-a-day reading time was required in the classroom; the essential factor was that the reading selections had to be the child's individual choice. Why not institute this at home, I thought. My youngest children certainly needed encouragement to read outside of school.

Our goal is to accomplish this at least twice a week, once on a weekend evening, once during a week night. The time is limited to 30 minutes. Despite our best efforts, other commitments do interfere, but
attempting and succeeding most, or even half, the time is better than not attempting or having this pleasure at all. It has been a relatively new practice in our home, bedtime read-aloud time having
been a habit with our children ever since we became parents.

While on vacation last summer, we visited a beautiful library in my Dad's hometown, which had liberally designated multiple spaces as "reading rooms." My first reaction was to think it a great method for promoting reading. I'm sure there is some sense of community that results from strangers gathering to read near one another. I had to acknowledge a little twinge of sadness, though, at the thought that what was once an ordinary family practice has been replaced by leaving the home for company and reading. Ever since there have been books in homes, and before that, with evening storytelling times, families have derived mutual pleasure and understanding by coming together over

To reclaim this tradition, the terms "family room" or "living room" can now be exchanged for "reading room." In Books that Build Character (Kilpatrick and Wolfe, 1994), the idea of families reading silently in the same room was mentioned - the bookcase being the focus for entertainment rather than the TV, in addition to extolling the benefits of reading aloud together. Both methods of reading as a family are essential. Both read-aloud and read-silently-together times deepen family relationships, promote life-long reading habits, and, best of all, nurture every family member's soul with imagination-fertilizing words, intellect-feeding ideas, and a life-giving place to live in a story.

For the joy of reading,



  1. I LOVE it when we read together this way! Like you, it doesn't happen as often as I'd like especially when farm chores are at their peak, but when it does there is something magical about the atmosphere. (And the sprawling positions the boys take is hilarious. It has been decades since my body would do that...)

    1. Thanks, Robin. I think maybe boys read better in the sprawl position.

  2. The little picture you painted in my mind is inspiring me! Thank you! We have been faithful about evening read aloud, and I've been instituting "quiet reading time" in our own spaces in the afternoons when we are home, but I am now going to gently introduce this beautiful idea of reading quietly together ... and from a book the child has chosen! Brilliant. Thank you!

    1. Glory Bea,

      Enjoy your gathered reading time. I hope it's a blessing to you as much as it has been to us!