Why I (Still) Read Aloud to My Kids

Why I (Still) Read Aloud to My Kids

Screen-Free Week Outreach Coordinator Rinny Yourman tells us why reading aloud is such an important tradition in her family, especially as her children grow up.

I have a confession to make: I have a teen and a preteen, and I still read books aloud to them. I think it’s because reading aloud to my children has become one of the deepest pleasures of parenthood for me. While I secretly love so many of the children’s books I’ve chosen to share with each of my children, I also revel in the sweet, private duet that seems to play out when my child and I are sharing a book aloud, together.

We started reading picture books to our children when they were babies, long before they could comprehend what they were looking at or what we were saying. Still, I think they enjoyed the combined sweetness of my singsong reading voice while enwrapped in my arms or perched on my lap.

While we read to our young children during the day, eventually we also started reading books before naps and bedtime. Reading aloud simply insinuated itself into our family’s sleepytime routine, and even after naps were dropped, our nightly reading habit persisted. I think bedtime proceeded more smoothly as a result, a mix of anticipation combined with the comforting sense of routine. Even after our children learned to read on their own – and they read on their own nearly every day – we continue to read to them too.

These days, there are no screens involved in our read alouds – we read from books – and indeed, there are no screens anywhere nearby. I read to my kids in various locations in and even outside the house, before bed or during lulls in the day, and they and I know that when I read to them, we have each other’s rapt attention. As I watch our children slowly assert their independence from us, I know that the read-alouds keep them gently rooted to their parents as well.

Reading aloud to a child – whether by a parent, caregiver, grandparent, older sibling, teacher, librarian, or friend – is a meaningful screen-free activity at home and at school. For those not yet in the habit of doing so, Screen-Free Week is a great time to launch a read-aloud routine, no matter the age of the child.

Screen-Free Week 2019 is April 29 – May 5. Make sure you register your event here!

Rinny is Outreach Coordinator for Screen-Free Week, where she works with families, schools, and communities to help them organize meaningful and fun Screen-Free Week celebrations that can inspire reduced screen use year round. She and her family have celebrated Screen-Free Week for years, and enjoy screen-free road trips together.

Reset Your Family’s Media Thermostat

We’ve been participating in Screen-Free Week as a family for years – for the first time, when our youngest was in preschool, and now this year, with our eldest a teenager. In past years, we’ve hiked, biked, and read books aloud. The kids always set the Screen-Free Week agenda. We hold a family meeting in advance to get their input, as we know that buy-in is greater when our children feel that we are listening to them.

This Screen-Free Week, we’ve been talking about trying out a single activity: building a Little Free Library to install on our property. We’ve wanted to build one for a while, but never seemed to find the time to do so. Screen-Free Week is our excuse to get started! The children want to fabricate it by hand, which means consulting plans in advance, shopping for supplies, and then allowing the kids to work (supervised) with tools and decorations to turn it into their own masterpiece. We’re thinking about what landscaping we’ll do to make the library more inviting, and when it’s completed we’ll discuss which children’s books to curate to launch our library. Of course, we may not accomplish any of this, or only a small portion, but the beauty of Screen-Free Week is that it allows us to dream in possibilities.

Screen-Free Week has been important for us as a family because it helps us reset our digital thermostat. Because we enjoy doing things together during Screen-Free Week, we’ve learned that we favor communal over individual screen use during the rest of the year. We have come to anticipate weekly movie nights, where we watch movies together and share the experience as a family. If my kids find a video game online, I prefer when they sit together and play (rather than each playing a different game alone on a different screen), because then the experience does not become isolating. When we hit the road on one of our extensive family road trips, we listen to audiobooks so that we can share the entertainment as a family.

Screen-Free Week has inspired limits too. It’s emboldened us not to give smartphones to our children (including our teenager) yet – I know they can wait. We want entertainment screens turned off within one hour of bedtime, to ensure better sleep. We have learned to care more about quality too, and have all agreed to consult the content ratings on the Common Sense Media website before trying a new show or movie, to confirm that they it is age-appropriate and consistent with our family values. And while we started our own 24-hour screen sabbaticals every weekend long before the kids were born, our experience with Screen-Free Week has only strengthened our resolve to continue this practice. We can see how it’s good for our children. They use the time to relax, read, and especially to play with their neighborhood friends. They make noise, run around, get in arguments, resolve conflicts, and negotiate rules to newly designed games. They get fresh air, lots of movement, and unstructured, creative, and rejuvenating free play.

Some families who carefully regulate their media consumption may not feel the need to participate in Screen-Free Week.  We carefully regulate too, but for us, going screen-free for an entire week feels very . . . liberating. It’s a reminder to myself of my own autonomy, that I can choose to untether myself from the 24/7 digital leash for an entire week. Screen-Free Week, for us, is not only about disconnecting, but also about reflecting on whether we’re achieving life balance. It invites us to revisit our past year’s screen decisions, reassess the limits we’ve set, and tweak our policies as technologies change and as our kids grow older. In our busy lives when it’s too hard to think ahead (or deeply) about anything, Screen-Free Week grants us the room to do so.

Rinny Yourman is a Screen-Free Week Outreach Coordinator at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, as well as a former labor lawyer and mom to two children. Whenever possible, she and her family love to hit the open road; they have logged more than 35,000 miles through 25 states, with no screen entertainment on board.