Simple Ways to Build a Reading Routine Your Busy Family Can Enjoy

by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., Kristina Bill, and Joy Marchese

Photo credit: kate_sept2004, E+ Collection/Getty Images

Are you busy juggling professional, personal, and family commitments? Do you struggle to find time to teach the valuable life skills you know your children need? Fostering a love of reading in your child at a young age can be extremely helpful as they grow and learn. You’ll treasure the joy your child finds in stories, and the time you put into helping your child read will be completely worth it.

If you’re wondering how you can possibly fit it into your overcrowded schedule, here are some quick and easy steps you can take to encourage yourself and your kids to make time for reading.

Begin before your child is born.

Do you take some time for yourself to enjoy a good book? You can start a joyful reading routine during pregnancy, which will make it easier to continue once the baby is born. Perhaps read in the morning first thing or as a part of your bedtime routine. Reading out loud and even singing the book to your baby bump will help with bonding and fetal development. Get your partner and older children involved too!

Make storytime interactive.

Setting up early routines with your baby in a loving and nurturing environment will help her connect books with special time as a family. Read aloud while your little one is playing independently (as long as it’s appropriate language and content, of course!). The more words a baby hears during the first three years, the greater the chance that their language and vocabulary will develop.

As your baby grows, encourage her to turn the pages during reading time. Some books that you can begin to read with your baby from the time they are born are: high contrast books (i.e. black and white), as this helps to develop a baby’s vision; rhyming books, which may help develop a baby’s language skills (try singing them too!); and tactile books (for example, puppet books with cloth fingers) to help stimulate the baby’s interest and encourage interaction.

Schedule family reading time.

Say, “Now is our reading time. We can read together or each read our own books.” Just be mindful of reading becoming the “boring” substitute to screens. It doesn’t have to be one or the other; make sure scheduled family time includes both activities.

Expand your reading material.

Family reading time doesn’t have to be just about books. Reading newspapers and magazines together illustrates to kids that there are many sources of information (not just the Internet!) and it can be a great way to build on a personal interest. Engage your kids in cooking. Simple recipes can help them recognize ingredient words.

Read anywhere — and everywhere.

When your child is around four to five years old, start playing reading games on the go. In the car, offer prompts like “Let’s see how many signs we can find that have a ‘K.’”

Take conversation off the page.

Reading can also be a safe time to talk about feelings and cultivate empathy. Use curiosity questions like “What would you do if your friend didn’t want to play with you?”

Create routine charts to encourage reading.

One of the best Positive Discipline tools for getting reluctant kids to read is to get them involved in creating their own routine charts. When the charts have one or two words (and a photo or drawing) of the task, they will start to recognize the word: Bath, Pajamas, Brush Teeth, Find clothes for tomorrow, Read book, Hugs and kisses, Sleep. Encourage your child to read their routine chart aloud. Completing the tasks that they’ve set for themselves will help them feel capable, and reading the chart will help the child feel confident around reading. Use “limited choices” where the child gets to choose between two books. It makes them feel empowered and more engaged in the activity. Encouraging your child to read the agenda during family meetings and items on the chore chart are more great ways to get kids reading before they know it.

Lead by example.

You can always start with attitude and energy. Children feel and understand energy more than words. Try to make sure that you’re communicating joy and enthusiasm when you read with your child, rather than stress or frustration. Are you excited for the bedtime story routine? Your kids will feel it.

Children have a natural curiosity to learn and understand. Share stories of how amazing it feels to be completely absorbed in an exciting book, how you can find courage, inspiration and unexpected solutions to problems through the journeys of the heroes in the stories. Your enthusiasm will help your child discover the joy of reading.

Finally, remember not to expect perfection; some kids will be naturally prone to reading, others not. Undoubtedly, they will have other exciting skills to explore.


For more tips on navigating busy family life, check out Positive Discipline for Today’s Busy (and Overwhelmed) Parent.