Why I Created ‘Reading Rules’ for My Children — And Myself

by Ariel Lawhon

Photo credit: Stefanie Grewe, Cultura/Getty Images

I play a game with my children every time we sit down to read. I call it “The Reading Rules” because my four boisterous boys need to be constantly reminded what is (and is not) civilized behavior while reading a story.

Consider one recent episode in the Lawhon household…

Me: “Boys, what are the Reading Rules?”
Boy #1 (twelve-year-old): “No talking while you read.”
Boy #2 (eleven-year-old): “No asking questions until you’re done.”
Boy #3 (eight-year-old): “No hitting.”
Boy #4 (seven-year-old): “No farting. Also, I’m sorry.”

This, as you can imagine, sent the conversation straight down the toilet (pun intended). Spasms of giggles. Groans. Protests. One child plugged his nose and ran around the couch. Another flailed on the floor. But now they were inspired. And hyper.

Boy #1: “And no picking your nose!”
Boy #2: “And no eating your boogers.”
Boy #3: “Boogers taste gross.”
Me: “Please don’t tell me how you know that.”

Boy #4 suddenly wouldn’t make eye contact at all and turned so red he appeared strangely sunburned. The other boys had, by this point, twisted off to the point of unmanageable. I gave them a gimlet eye so we could get back to the task at hand: learning which of the four houses the Sorting Hat assigned Harry Potter. Even though they already knew the result (they’d seen the movie and we’d read the book before), cheers of “Gryffindor!” ensued.

Ariel Lawhon’s four sons

Here’s the truth, friends: Raising readers is not an easy task.

It’s particularly difficult these days, when we compete with myriad forms of technology and flashing screens and instant gratification. My kids are fixated on electronics just like everyone else’s. And, even though I write books for a living and have been reading aloud to my children for over twelve years, I clearly haven’t mastered the art of keeping my kids distraction-free while we read. But this is a battle worth fighting and I am determined to help my children become lifelong readers.

[RELATED: Why I Always Say Yes to ‘One More Bedtime Story’]

So, in the interest of a literate society, I created Reading Rules for myself — they provide me with inspiration and encouragement, especially when my sons aren’t minding their own rules. I thought I’d share them with you in the hopes that you might be inspired and encouraged too…

Read aloud to your children as often as possible, for as long as possible. My mother read to us into our teen years and it’s something I still treasure from my childhood. A passion for reading is caught, not taught, and your children will catch it if you are consistent and passionate. It’s okay to make your pre-teen turn off the television and come listen to you read for a few minutes. And you might just be surprised by how into it they are.

When choosing a read-aloud, forget the kids and go for the book you love. It sounds contradictory, but this is about you, not about them. If you don’t love the book you are reading aloud, neither will they. So go for your old favorites when they’re young. Find that book you want them to adore as much as you do. Your enthusiasm will be contagious.

Let them stay up a bit later if they’re reading. Yes, sleep is precious, but every time they stay up a little late for a book, they are forming a reading habit. When they ask for “just one more chapter,” you’ll know you’ve won. They may feel like they’re cheating bedtime — but, let’s face it, they will likely soon fall asleep with the book on their face anyway.

Make reading time fun. If you have little ones, allow them to be active; let them build with blocks or LEGO while you read. Offer the older kids hot chocolate with too much whipped cream. Give them something, anything, to look forward to and eventually those positive emotions will project onto the reading time itself.

Create Reading Rules for your kids. You can create your own based on your children’s struggles, but my family has three basic rules:

  1. Stay in the room until we’re done. This simply keeps them from getting distracted to the point that they wander off.
  2. No talking. I’m trying to help them grow their attention spans and listening skills — no small task, believe me.
  3. No questions until the end of the chapter. I want them to listen to the story in its full context, because their questions are almost always answered at the end of the chapter.

At the beginning of every reading session I ask them to recite their Reading Rules. They, of course, add the silly ones for fun. And really, that’s what this is all about anyway: fun.

As a bonus I’d like to offer a few of my favorite read-alouds to get you started:

Good luck and enjoy! And let me know if you’ve found a great read-aloud. I’m always on the lookout for more.