I know it sounds awfully pre-war pre-TV but it really is worthwhile.
I’ve always loved to read and I’ve passed the love of reading onto my children and besides reading as individuals we still enjoy to read to each other and together. It’s something of a delight to me that from watching the Russian Winter Olympic opening ceremony that we have had a chat about Russian history, Russian Revolution and associated classics of Russian, German and English literature. It gave us opportunity to discuss War and Peace and they asked if I’d buy a copy so we could read it as a family and we added to the list Animal Farm and then we led on to including 1984. I was able to reminisce about an old favourite, Der Kaukasische Kreidekreis by Brecht which I read in German for my A Level and was privileged to see performed by a German touring theater group back in the 80’s. Although they felt reading it in German was a bit much they’ve asked me to include a copy of the English translation The Caucasian Chalk Circle in the family book shop too.
I’m delighted that now they are older and able to understand, debate and opinionate on social, historical, political and economic topics that our family reading is taking a step up and I’m even more delighted that they are going to get to read, digest and discuss the issues contained in these classic works, something they sadly don’t get to do at school anymore. Can’t wait for them to arrive and for us to get started.
If anyone’s wanting to try something like this it really is good for family bonding and keeping lines of positive and effective communication open with teenagers and it presents really good opportunities for subtle advice giving and problem solving. You often find that there is something in even the most simple of books which can relate to something they are experiencing at the time and more often than not, when the book is closed and put away you’ll find them opening up about something unrelated to the book that they may be worried or concerned about. It’s just a great way of allowing time to communicate openly with your kids at all ages, particularly important in the teen years and beyond and a great bonding activity not just parent to child but sibling to sibling too. Also this has added benefits of being a couples activity, it gives you a chance to actually speak to your partner about something other than the bills, work and whatever. It can be quite refreshing for a relationship always having something new to talk about.
I’d give my top tips as:
1. Start early – have family reading time factored into the routine from the beginning. You can start reading to a baby as soon as it’s born, you don’t have to wait for it to understand. Your reading voice is surprisingly soothing to a baby too.
2. Have a routine and stick to it – factor in family reading time as a regular part of your schedule and don’t miss it. Make it realistic so if you know you can only sit and read as a family and have a discussion once a week or once a month that’s cool, just make sure everyone knows when it is, that they’re all expected to be there and make sure it happens. When they are small it’s easy to do every day snuggled up together on the sofa or on someone’s bed, as they get older it might be less practical but start with that daily dose to start the fire and adapt as they get older to make sure it doesn’t go out.
3. Don’t try to sprint through a book and leave discussion to the end. If all you manage is to read a paragraph which leads to a discussion or debate which takes up the rest of the time you’ve allotted then so be it. It’s not just the reading that is important but the activity, the conversation, the being together, the communication… it’s all part of the bigger picture. Take turns at reading too, make sure everyone gets a go, it’s good for communication skills building and also for just developing literacy skills.
4. Don’t exclude technology. It’s OK for someone to have a lap top or tablet on hand in case something comes up that you want to reference or check or do further research on right then and there. Just make sure that’s all there is, no phones being played with or answered, no TV or music in the background.
5. Don’t let non-participants interrupt. If you have visitors then invite them to take part with you and if they don’t want to let them go to another room or sit and observe but tell them they should follow the rules and don’t be ashamed to tell them that this is an important part of your family life and it’s not being cancelled for anyone. Believe me they are not going to come and sort out your wayward teenager when the proverbial hits the fan because you just can’t communicate with each other anymore.
6. Depending on the age of your children you may want to introduce other elements to keep them engaged with books that take more than one session to finish (this will obviously become more of an issue as they get older). So for example if you have a research crazy geek child, let him or her do some ‘homework’ and set them something related to find out in advance to prevent them spending the whole session wanting to research instead of participate. Likewise if you have a creative child get them to draw a picture physically or digitally representing what you discussed for the next week as a reminder of what’s already happened. Get someone different to summarise the last session if it’s necessary each week. Don’t underestimate a young person’s ability to digest a big book read in sections over a long period of time. It can be a useful tool in assessing their comprehension of what they’ve read and recall besides a host of other benefits. I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my daughter when she was 3 over several weeks.
7. Choose your books together. It’s important that everyone is interested in the book you’re reading. It can start with simple stuff like the Hungry Caterpillar and Elmer and move on to things like Horrid Henry and Jacqueline Wilson and then into Harry Potter, Shakespeare, the bible anything you like. It’s surprising what adults can learn from some children’s books. Contemporary children’s literature contains some pretty meaty issues and provides plenty of ground for discussion. Even reading books like Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories can be really interesting to talk about social and cultural change, and don’t forget the classics. Try to get a good balance with an aim of sophisticating their reading habits particularly if you want them to become academics.
Try it. It’s a really worthwhile activity and in these days where kids spend more and more time in their room away from the rest of the family it’s really good to bring them back together now and then and develop the strength of the family unit. It’s nurturing and protective and adds stability to their lives. People might think you’re archaic and weird but let them think what they like, we think people who don’t enjoy constructive family time are weird. Horses for courses and all that 😀