Reading Tip: Making time to read with multiple children

I currently have one toddler and, without any exaggeration, we spend at least 45 minutes reading together each day. Some days it can be much more than that. It is quality, cuddly, reading time and we both love it.  I sometimes wonder how I could continue spending this time with my daughter if I had more children. And, what if I had four children? Surely I wouldn’t have 3 hours each day to dedicate to reading, to ensure I  spent 45 minutes with each of them.

When I found out that a My Little Bookcase community member had four children, I couldn’t resist asking the question, “How do you find time to read with all of your children?”

I thank Christie Walsh,  mum of four, who also manages her family’s photo booth business (In The Booth) for  sharing her family’s reading journey below.

Have a read, and let us know how you find the time for quality reading with all of your children.

How do you do it?” is the most common question I get asked upon seeing my four children, aged 7 and under. I could give lots of tricks and tips that I have learned along my journey as a mother, but today I want to share how I instill a love of reading in my home.

Yes, I do read to all four of my children most days. You may think that’s totally unrealistic but truth be told, it only takes a few minutes a day and if you weave it into your routine it becomes a habit – for life!

HOW DO I DO IT?

  • I use a technique I like to call the “Noah’s Ark Principle”. I read two by two – that is, two children at a time. I find if they’re squished up nice and close to each side of me and can see the pictures well, they will be more interested in what we’re reading. When I try and read to all of my children at once they lose concentration and wander away.

  • I also read to my son or make up my own stories if we have a spare 10 minutes before school pickups, or waiting in the car – it’s amazing how a good story can pass time!
  • My 7 year old, Miss Sunshine, has become such a bookworm that I admit I am having trouble keeping up with her consumption of books! The bonus is, that on a particularly busy night, she can now read bedtime stories to her younger siblings – 2 at a time of course!!
  • Another of my reading principles is “You mustn’t watch the movie until you’ve finished the book!” Even my 6 and 7 year old girls agree with me now, that watching the movie before you finish the book takes away the magic of your own imagination!

OUR FAMILY READING JOURNEY:

  • When I start reading with my children, we read interactive books, for example tactile, lift-the-flap or ‘squeaky’ books. Our favourite for this age was Noisy Hippo (Gaby Goldsack) which, as an added bonus, quite successfully taught our children the difference between loud (outside) voices and quieter (inside) voices!
  • After that we move onto the obligatory Dr. Seuss range. Dr. Seuss is a marvel – how many different ways can you tell the same story?? TONNES – we read it fast, slow, in funny voices, leaving off the last word for the toddler to fill in, re-enacting it, skipping pages for a fast read (did you notice that it still makes sense??)  My son has been stuck on Green Eggs and Ham for about 2 months. Consequently his dinner capers are also much improved!!
  • From Dr. Seuss, we needed to visit the library. I prefer books with imaginative pictures to hold younger readers’ attention. Books like Water Boy (Ros Asquith), The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear (Don & Audrey Wood) and The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle).
  • Another of our well-thumbed books is a Little Golden Book I picked up at a garage sale. Its title says it all – My Little Golden Book of Manners (Peggy Parish). Funnily enough our children have often requested this read at around 2-4 years of age. I hope you can find a copy too!!
  • At around the age of 4 years I ventured into bigger books with my girls – what we now refer to as “chapter books”. This is when the world of books opened up to them. We started with Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair Series. To foster imagination and creativeness you can’t go past these especially if you’re lucky enough to find the editions with colour illustrations. Even if they can’t manage to sit through a whole chapter, a page or two at a time will capture their attention and they can increase their reading time as their attention span grows.

  • From there we moved to Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit series, Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder), PippiLong Stocking (Astrid Lindgren), The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) and any of Roald Dahl’s hilarious tales. We also occasionally read poems just to change things around a little – you can’t go past Banjo Patterson’s Mulga Bill’s Bicycle for a good laugh (and re-enactment).
  • Our favourite book so far has definitely been Pollyanna (Eleanor H. Porter). It has actually changed our family life – but you’ll have to read it to understand the impact of ‘The Glad Game’!

Reading Tip: Making time to read with multiple children

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  1. Christy your kids are gorgeous and you are a beautiful mum. I’m so glad you mentioned The Faraway Tree (I spent lots of my early primary school years in bed sick and read and re-read that book and fell in love with stories in the process).
    Have A and E read What Katie Did? They’d love that one too. I have a 40yr old copy floating around here somewhere.
    Great advise for mums of little ones, but any tips on how to get your 15yr old excited about reading again? :/ not fun.

    • Hi Ally. Thanks for sharing.
      Sorry to hear that your 15 year old is not enjoying reading at the moment. You’ve just given me another topic to write about.
      In the meantime, see if any of these books help. They have been adapted as films. My secondary students really enjoyed discussing the difference between books and films :http://www.mylittlebookcase.com.au/books/film-inspired-books-for-children/

      My other advice is don’t give up. Many teenagers come back to reading. For some hope watch this video of superstar author and illustrator Peter Carnavas. He states that he stopped reading as a teenager and didn’t reture to reading until he was 20:http://open.abc.net.au/projects/artist-by-artist-81ns9lo/contributions/peter-by-christine-87ej2st

  2. With a four and two year old I often have to take the ‘two by two’ approach, but when we’re both home with the kids we try to ‘divide and conquer’ so each boy gets to read what he wants to read and they don’t muck about as much. Often the best time for my two year old is in the morning before the four year old wakes up. I’ve always been a fan of the ‘Folk in the Faraway Tree’ series so I’m looking forward to starting chapter books with them.

    • Hi Melissa,
      DIVIDE AND CONQUER. I like that one too. My hubby likes reading with my daughter, so we’ll probably employ this strategy too if we’re ever lucky enough to add to our brood.

  3. I love this post, reading books is part of the daily fabric of our lives as a family and with five kids, there are a number of ways we enjoy books together. The two by two approach mentioned above is what I do when sharing a picture book with the kids. Our oldest also regularly reads to his younger siblings. We have one child per parent with the school readers, and we use audio books books to encourage nap or rest times with the smaller kids. But my favourite way that we read together as a family is bedtime storytime. The whole family goes into a bedroom (we alternate between the kids rooms) and we listen to my husband read from a classic just before lights out for the little ones. We’re currently reading Alice in Wonderland. I hope this continues as a family routine no matter how old the kids are.

    • Oh Kate,
      You made me cry. I love that you all read a book together as a family- and that dad is the storyteller- just gorgeous! What a beautiful book tradition you have begun.
      The use of audio books is also another great strategy.

  4. We have three kids, 5,7 and 9. The boys are both at school and get home readers every day. I do these individually with them of an afternoon during our homework time and my husband does them again the next morning with them while they are getting ready to go to school. Miss 5 and I read books often throughout the day and she now wants to independently read more than just picture books so we are starting on early readers. Whenever we are doing something that involves reading I involve the kids so they are learning when least aware, recipes, maps, instructions etc, just integrated into whatever we are doing. My grade 2 son is quite a gifted reader and reads at a higher level than my grade 3 son which has been a particular challenge for us. Major blow to Master 9’s self esteem and confidence, but now we have glasses and are seeing a behavioral optometrist and a tutor and with his teachers support I feel we are back on track and enjoying reading which is very important to me! After dinner we all usually pile onto our bed and I read all the kids a story, then one of the boys reads to their sister which they all seem to enjoy, while I do a bit more reading one on one with the other. The kids then all read in bed for a while before lights out. Often I will read Miss 5 another story and same for the boys. It’s always a juggle, but great fun!

    • Oh Allison, you’ve made me cry too. I feel for your son. I think the eldest has such a tough job (not just with reading). I too am an eldest child and our confidence does get rocked if our younger siblings are ‘better’ than us at some things. I’m sure he’s got some wonderful talents of his own. It just goes to show that there are many factors that can affect our love of reading. I’m glad to hear that you’ve worked together to overcome some difficulties.

      I love the point that you make about integrating reading time into everyday life. That’s an awesome strategy.

      …and yes you’re right, family life and getting the right balance is a juggle. Well done though with your juggling. :)

  5. I would love to say that u read to each of my 5 children everyday but I can’t lie! The older boys though are reading themselves so I am trying to encourage this more by finding books they enjoy. They are also good at reading to the 2 year old and I suspect pretty soon I will start reading to the 7 week old with the toddler during the day whilst the others are at school. My eldest son has a vision impairment and so whilst he can read small print he gets tired easily so he also enjoys talking books and his teacher even downloads school books and puts them on the iPod for him. Subsequently when he reads out loud he reads with great expression!

    • I think audio books are sensational- especially for kids who want to be independent with their reading. Thanks so much for popping by to share your experience.

  6. Oh and that was supposed to be “I” read to my children not “u” as
    clearly that would be a lie :-)

  7. I have three under school age (5, 4 and almost 2) and reading is a big part of our day. As much as they’re happy to have books read together, with varying ages and interests, they each need their own reading time.

    Individual reading time is part of our daily play time as much as possible. They’ll each have a turn snuggling up in my lap or next to me on the lounge while the others play. We’ll read one book they’ve chosen and one I’ve chosen, so they can hear a favourite and I can introduce them to something new. Once they’ve each had a turn, we go with the flow – sometimes it’s an all-in snuggle-read and sometimes one will stay for numerous books while the others are ready to go back to playing.

    There are other ways to incorporate books into the day without sitting down to read. I love wordless books which let them enjoy books on their own. They can make their own story up, ‘read’ as quickly or slowly as they’d like and either glance at a page or spend a long time staring at the intricacies of the illustrations. Audio books are also great for allowing them to hear a story.

    I also use the divide and conquer method at the end of the day. Before bed, I’ll read three books (one that each has chosen) to them all, then we split – I tuck the younger two in and read a chapter from a book while sitting next to their beds, currently we’re reading Blinky Bill. For the eldest, Mr reads him a chapter or two from a different book – they’re currently working through the Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton.

    I wish your reader luck in finding out what works for her family.

    • Thanks for sharing Natalie. It sounds like although reading is an extremely important part of your day that flexibility is also the key and letting your boys take the lead a little at times. Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Thank you for sharing this gorgeous post! :)
    I have 3 kids, 5, 3 and 14months. Even when our kids were babies, we have always incorporated reading into our routine and daily lives. Every evening we are all on the couch with a book (and Dad), my two eldest pick a book each and one of us does the two and two approach while the youngest is read to on her own with more interactive books that involve touching different textures. The next evening hubby and I swap who we read to. http://www.learning4kids.net/2011/09/23/how-to-help-children-develop-a-love-for-reading-getting-in-early/

    • That also sounds like a great way for your children to experience different styles of reading and story telling. ;)

  9. amy said: On October 9, 2011

    I’ve never heard of the noahs ark concept but i dont think it will work for me at this stage.
    I will sit with one child to read and end up with up to 4 all sitting quietly around me. My kids are 5, 3, 2 & an active crawling 7months.
    On piling up the books I’m amazed at how many we get through per day. I started a chapter book that is so facinating they love it.
    I’ve added in audio books recently to take the pressure off me and develop their literacy skills etc. one thing I think helps is getting them yo tell me the story using pictures in the book. The older kid then tells the story to the younger kids without being told or asked. Its truly beautiful to see. We mainly use living books as they seem more interesting and fulfilling.
    Loving it :)

    • I love listening to the stories children create themselves from the pictures. Thanks for sharing.

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