Every night when I am home (which is most nights), after dinner we read as a family. This isn’t a new tradition – my wife and I have read to each other out loud on car trips for years even before we had kids – and it’s a ritual that takes time. In an average book you can read a couple of chapters a night, which turns out to be 20 to 40 pages or so. Depending upon the print or your available time you might be limited to more like 25 pages. (Even when certain people ask you to read “just a few more pages, please.”)
When a book spans several hundred pages and you can only get through 100 pages in a week (or perhaps more if you manage to get together every night as a family), you spend more time with the characters than if you read to yourself. Favorite series stay alive for months at a time and the biggest problem we typically have is that we have a pile of books we’d like to read next, and we can’t read them all at the same time. We need to negotiate as a family and compromise on a book or a series of books that sounds promising.
Reading stories over a long period of time and deciding what to do as a group are great skills for life. And listening is a great lesson to a kid (and to the parents) on the importance of presence. When we read, we all pay attention to the story. That means no phones, no other books (perhaps some doodling, as that stimulates the brain in different ways) and the person who’s reading gets to drive the pace. Sometimes I read, sometimes my wife reads, and sometimes the kids read. And we all listen as the stories unfold.
Stories are also a great vehicle to discuss other things that are going on in our lives. When we look through the lens of a particular character or discuss that character’s motivations when faced with a challenging situation, we’re also thinking, “what would I do if I were there? What would I do right now?” I often find myself having a mental conversation with a favorite character when I’m facing a new situation, as I imagine how the character might react.
In this age of always-on everything, what’s the point of reading out loud? Merely everything. Reading aloud forces you to pay attention to the story at hand. Reading aloud is great practice for conveying many different kinds of stories to a group. And reading aloud among family and friends is something you really can’t do online, at a concert, while playing video games, or while doing whatever it is that we do to content ourselves most of the time. Read and you open your mind to many new worlds. Read aloud, and you open yourself up to a shared experience that deepens over time, welcoming new and old characters into your life in interesting ways.