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Too Spent to Read to Your Kids?

October 4, 2019

There are multiple ways to nourish a child’s literacy appetite and build pre-literacy skills

I work at a library.

One of the best libraries in the country, in fact.

And I was hired to help inspire parents and teachers to read to their kiddos through our outreach services.

But here’s the thing.

Don’t tell anyone.

Sometimes, life kicks my butt. Sometimes, I’m so spent as a working mom that I don’t have the energy/patience/time/ read to my own kids. And during those times, those seasons where time just seems to fly out the window along with one of my toddler’s shoes, and my other kiddo is running around in his underwear screaming at the top of his lungs, and I don’t know what’s for dinner and I’m pretty sure I just stepped in dog poop somewhere between the car and the front door...

On those days in particular…I don’t want to read. I don’t want to do much of anything beyond survive the day.

And. That. Sucks.

Especially since I had enough energy at 9am to read to 135 kids at an elementary school and can practically hear the other families that live on our street tucking their kiddos in and reading for a solid 30 minutes. So let me just stop right there and say something we both need to hear....

When you’re absolutely maxed out and desperately need some breathing time, it’s ok NOT to have what it takes to read to the kids in your life. In fact, I really don’t think you should read at all on that kind of night....unless reading aloud is your most preferred self-care activity. Instead, I think you need to take a moment. Go pour a bath, go for a walk, do some deep breathing. Or, here’s a novel idea (pun intended)....go to bed. Get caught up on the hours of sleep you’re overdue. Do what you need to do in order to renew your spirit and yourself. Because reading isn’t just about quantity, it’s about quality. Quality is utmost important. And if your gas tank is on empty, do what you need to do to refill a bit.

Now, you don’t get a pass every night. But I promise reading from a place of quality and not forcing the quantity will do more for inspiring your child to be a lifelong reader. And it just so happens, there are multiple ways to nourish a child’s literacy appetite and build pre-literacy skills without even opening a book, let alone reading it. So the next time life kicks our butt, we can push back and know that we’ve got options...even if the bedtime story wasn’t one of them.

Ways to enjoy (pre-)literacy on the go

Turn up the music

There’s a few ways you can “listen” to a book or words that will foster a child’s literacy growth. Immediately you probably thought of an audio book. And while audio books are great, sometime it’s hard for young kids to follow along.  If the kids in your life are a bit younger, find a nursery rhyme CD or just crank up your favorite tunes! Singing helps slow language down, making it easier for younger ears to process what they’re hearing.

Learn a new song or sing some nursery rhymes on the go

There are TONS of resources online that highlight great songs for kids. If you need some inspiration in this category, check out one of our favorite librarian blogs! Jbrary often highlights simple songs that are easy and often become big hits with small kiddos. Here’s a direct link to Jbrary’s youtube channel an one of their greatest hits...Zoom Zoom Zoom Storytime Song.

Have a chat about the library!

Discuss what topics your kiddo would like to investigate the next time you’re at the library. Ask them what they want to read about and make a mental note to look up options in the catalog the next time you’re at a library branch. Often times kids assume that what they read is the choice of the adult because, let’s face it, often times it’s a teacher or parent picking the material. But helping a child understand the vastness of topics, and the fact they have a a beautiful and motivating revelation.

Use the world around you

Often times in our parent workshops, we point out environmental print as a great way to help a child learn to read. So be on the lookout, throughout your day, of things you can point out to your kids.  Some of our favorite things to point out in passing: street signs, interstate signs, billboards, traffic lights, the Nashville murals and reading driving directions out loud.


Anytime we have a sitter or family member watching our kids, we will often ask them to read.  As the old saying goes “it takes a village.” The reality is that you aren’t the only person who can ignite your child’s passion for reading. No one has ever turned us down on the request and it creates a beautiful bonding opportunity for the child and caregiver.

Be honest (and give them wordless books)

Tell your kid you're pretty spent. Tell them how you feel. Give them a real life example of an emotion. And if they are throwing a fit, looking at you like they’re about to cry (like mine do…because bedtime reading has become an important part of our routine) or if they still have the energy and/or desire for books, give them another option. Tell them you’re happy to leave the light on while they “read” books on their own in bed. Wordless books are a perfect choice because it’s easier for a kid to simply enjoy the illustrations and put the story together themselves without the pressure of knowing the words. In moments like this...we are providing a safe place for our kiddos to take ownership with their own literacy journey.

And don’t forget, NPL supports you and your family in this journey.

It’s a marathon though, not a sprint.