Read Aloud: Self-Care

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937

One of the basic ways to practice wise self-care is to read an uplifting book. While hiking 200 miles on the John Muir Trail this past summer, Trina and I read aloud every night in our tent before going to sleep. We chose to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel, The Hobbit, one of the great hiking, adventure stories.

We’ve read aloud together for years, in our home, to our children when they were still at home, as well as reading aloud in our tents at night while backpacking. One of the best activities parents can do for their children is to read at night to your child at bedtime. This daily self-care habit offers parents and children multiple gifts simultaneously.

You may not have known that April 12th, every year is known as D.E.A.R Day, or “Drop Everything and Read.” Why April 12th? That day is Beverly Cleary’s birthday, and D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) is an idea from Cleary’s book Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

D.E.A.R. is a way to emphasize reading, especially among children. Adults are encouraged to take 15-30 minutes every day, lay aside everything else (drop everything), and enjoy reading books together.

My wife and I have practiced D.E.A.R. Time with our children since they were all babies. But I first learned the term “D.E.A.R. Time” when I served for eight years on our local school board, hearing about this approach to reading from our teachers who emphasize daily “sustained silent reading” (S.S.R.) in their classrooms to improve literacy among their students. Teachers often call this daily reading time  “D.E.A.R. Time,” in honor of Beverly Cleary.

We’ve read aloud in our family since our three sons were babies, selecting age appropriate books to read aloud at bedtime as an essential part of daily life together in our family. All our grown sons today are avid readers, and our eldest son and his wife read  aloud with their three children nightly at bedtime. Here are a few ideas for reading aloud, as a way of healthy, self-care.

D.E.A.R. TIME: WHAT TO READ

  • Choose books that are age appropriate.  If you have children in a wide range of ages, you may consider having separate reading times for younger and older children. 
  • Collect suggestions from family members and friends of book titles to be read aloud at D.E.A.R. time.
  • Begin your D.E.A.R. time with a fun book that catches everyone’s attention: go to your local library with your book list from the family meeting and ask the librarian to offer you suggestions for a good read aloud book for your family, given the ages of your children.  There are many books available that offer helpful book lists for parents seeking books to read aloud to their children. 
  • Over the years, broaden your children’s reading diet.  William Kilpatrick, in his book titled Books That Build Character, offers an excellent book list with brief descriptions of books in the following categories: Picture Books; Fables and Fairy Tales; Myths, Legends, and Folktales; Sacred Texts; Books for Holidays and Holy Days; Historical Fiction; Contemporary Fiction; Fantasy and Science Fiction; and Biography.  Keep expanding your children’s vocabulary, imagination and horizons through time together in good books.

D.E.A.R. TIME: WHEN TO READ

  • Commit together to a set amount of time daily, or at least a set time  each week, on a set night of the week for D.E.A.R. time: for example, “Our family promises to read aloud every Tuesday & Thursday evening for 30 minutes, just before Bedtime”.
  • If you’ve never had a read aloud time in your home before, begin with a small amount of time, 5-10 minutes and read a picture book or a short chapter of a chapter book, depending on the age of your children.

D.E.A.R. TIME: HOW TO READ

  • Choose a reader in the family who likes to read aloud.  At first, a parent should be the D.E.A.R. time reader.  After this habit is set, share reading duties with various members of the family.  St.Benedict encouraged daily reading aloud in the monastery, and encouraged choosing a reader who had the ability to benefit their hearers.
  • Do not allow children to walk around, talk, play or otherwise disrupt the reader.  This is “Drop Everything And Read” time.  Benedict warned: Let there be complete silence.  No whispering, no speaking—only the reader’s voice should be heard there (RB, 38).
  • Better to finish the D.E.A.R. time with your children wanting more than to bore them to distraction.  We read daily to our sons for 30 minutes, just before bedtime. This reading aloud practice lasted into their High School years. Our final book we read aloud, Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, took us almost a year to finish, as it was 1200 pages  long. 
  • Read aloud regularly from the Bible, God’s Word and our soul’s finest feast!
J.R.R. Tolkein in his library