It’s amazing how incredibly intuitive children can be. A perfect example is bedtime. My kids always seem to sense the end of the night is approaching and suddenly become bereft with needs. Thirst, hunger, the desire for an extra-long bath, an urge to play with every toy in their bedroom—all of these stall tactics seem to pop up just as I was ready to wind down.
Channel that restless energy into actual rest—and help them sharpen their reading skills—with these 5 practical tips.
Make Room for Nonsense
It may sound crazy, but penciling in a little silly time can save your sanity. Aiming for tucked in/lights out at 8:00 pm? Start choosing books and getting settled in at 7:15pm, leaving enough time to read and chat (older kids are particularly prone to nighttime chatter). Rushing through books can be anxiety-inducing for everyone and cause exhausted meltdowns, prolonging bedtime even further.
Set up a Routine with Bedtime Stories
Consistency and routine is always a good way to begin and finish the day. Keep a rotation of three books on the nightstand: a short, manageable one for your child to read; a more challenging book you can read together; and a household favorite to end the night with. Setting this pattern has many benefits. It sets a clear beginning/middle/end allotment every night, it allows your child to practice reading in a relaxed mental space, and it sets a clear signal that the evening is over and it’s time for bed. (Tip: Empower your little ones to help choose their own books and keep many age appropriate options on hand so they aren’t stuck with titles that are too easy or too advanced for their level.)
Celebrate Sights and Sounds
Mastering sight words (words that don’t follow a phonetic formula and are learned by memory, i.e. the, when, would) along with the phonetic sounds of the alphabet is key to reading and fun to do aloud with many books. Have your child help you identify sight words, and for phonetic sounds, carefully sound out words like “ssssssnake”, “b-b-ball.” Treat it as reading hide-and-seek and praise your child each time he or she sounds out a letter or identifies a sight word. To up the reward ante, offer small prizes like gold stickers (or better yet, more books!) for a job well done.
Keep Your Options Open
While many parents love passing on classics from their own childhood, like everything else in life, kids have their own opinion on books. Take note of the genres that excite them most, and zone in on those at bedtime. Even the most uninterested reader can become sparked with curiosity when the right series comes along. If your child can’t fully identify what he or she enjoys, ask questions about their favorite characters and storylines and focus on titles that pique their interest. Picture books, science fiction, travel—the options are as varied as they are for adults.
Press Reset on Bedtime
Often, developmental phases and changes in routine can disrupt bedtime reading, turning a once-enjoyable activity into a struggle or—worse yet—a burden. Consider what has led to the disruption—too much screen time, an abundance of homework, and overtiredness can all be culprits. The resistance might simply be a case of book boredom. If a well-worn tome isn’t getting the same love it once did, it might be time to retire an old title to make room for some fresh new picks.
Follow these tips to allow time for reading and play and still get some shuteye yourself—any parent’s own fairy tale ending.