Grab the Turmeric; that Title is Inflammatory
Let me start with a story, then I’ll circle back to this.
When I was a kid, my mom read to my every night until I was old enough to read myself. She usually read from The Hobbit, as she loves Tolkein, and so I naturally gravitated towards that type of writing as I got older.
As a kid, I read voraciously – every week during summer break my grandmother took me to the library, where I’d grab as many books as I could handle. I’d read those and in the span of a week I’d be back for more. I loved reading and eventually writing my own stories, and I still do.
Beyond me, reading is absolutely critical for learning, developing logic and sound reasoning skills, and for proper brain plasticity. Learning through reading is not as fast a through video, but it requires far more patience, energy, and focus. It’s the mental equivalent of working out with dumbbells instead of barbells, activating more auxiliary brain than just watching something. Reading is very, very important.
Grab your seats and call me the Indy 500, because I’m circling back around.
Yes, Absolutely Stop Reading to your Children (in the Standard Sense)
I have found, in my short time as a father, that nary a night goes by where I’m not retelling a story about a strung-out mouse with a cookie problem, or a poor girl who secretly wants to kill her step-family (my inference). Kids love the sameness that comes with reading the old, boring (to us) stories over and over again. My son will ask for the same story 4 nights in a row, give me an “I hate that story, daddy” on the 5th night, not mention it on nights 6-8, and then act like it’s a wholly new tale and request it for nights 9-infinity afterwards.
Every parent who has ever read to their kids knows this routine, which I have dubbed the “Jesus Christ, kid, what could be so interesting about – no, no ok I’ll ready it ugh” cycle.
For the sake of my sanity, I have adopted a different approach to that old chestnut of a bedtime ritual, and my children actually like it. For MY benefit, it adds some variety, and in the long term I feel it will benefit them far more than me droning on and on about the same characters night after night.
Also, before I elaborate on my method, I would suggest you tailor this plan to your kids’ ages. Mine are, at the time of this writing, 3 and 4 – this is perfect for them. If your kids are younger, it won’t be as useful, and if they’re very young, just stick with the old formula.
If your kids are teens and you attempt this, I’m genuinely curious to have you report back.
Harry Potter and the Interactive Storytime
The first thing I do at the start of the week is let my kids each pick a book. They have their own little canvas bookshelf and most of their books are housed there. I let them each grab a book, and I read both. Invariably, this leads to them both picking their favorite books on Monday, and when we’re done, I put the books up for the week. The next nigh they need to pick something different, and they’re both aware that they won’t get their favorites until the following Monday, at the earliest.
This lets us cycle through books that would likely never get read because we just have so many. It exposes them to more ideas, words, and styles of writing, too.
After we’ve read both books, we alternate; some nights I tell an entirely free-form story I make up off the top of my head. Other nights, the kids will each tell a story. This encourages quick and imaginative thinking, improves their grasp of language, and enriches their creativity.
Encouraging their own stories has given my son a definite knack for world building. He uses concepts he’s familiar with (Spider-man, for instance) and then puts them in situations where more often than not they get eaten by a dinosaur or something. Later on in the week, we’ll revisit wherever Spider-man was eaten and he’ll add some other ideas or characters, and they recall these scenes and stories later on.
It’s truly remarkable seeing how they build on older stories, and on each other’s stories. One caveat about this, however, is to set some boundaries on time for their stories. Obviously as in all things related to kids, boundaries are a necessity, but if you don’t set time limits, you’ll end up with a rambling story that keeps popping back up as they “remember a really important” thing about how Spider-man went on a date with Wonder Woman and they ate ravioli and how that’s your kid’s favorite food and also how there was a squirrel that got hit by a car and … I mean, you get it.
So Wait, SHOULD I Read to My Kids or Not?
Yes, but don’t make it a ritualistic chore or a simple routine to get them to sleep. Involve them, get them interested in more than just the simple sine wave of your voice to be replaced by one of their snoring. They know about how Cinderella is treated by her stepsisters, but what if she was a werewolf? Perhaps your family pets go on adventures when nobody is around. Maybe they have an opinion on Ayn Rand and objectivism!* There is no limit once you engage your kids in something as simple as a bedtime story, and, though I as-to-now lack solid data, I will have a better indication once my kids are older of how this enriches their lives, compared to compulsory reading.
Have you tried inventing stories with your kids? Does your bedtime ritual differ greatly from mine, and do you like it?
*Don’t read Rand’s works to kids; that’s how you get Changelings.