We’ve all heard the studies that share the impact of reading 20 minutes a day. This has become so ingrained in parenting advice that some lovely soul has even written a “read 20 minutes a day poem.” However, at the end of the school day, we are often exhausted and faced with that mandatory 20 minutes reading homework left to do. Joy has come up with some great ways to be a rockstar parent in the reading homework department.
I have a wishy-washy, love/hate relationship with the 20 minutes reading homework sent home from school. I love the idea of setting aside 20 minutes for reading every day and there are so many benefits of reading 20 minutes a day. I hate when I’m already exhausted and this requirement becomes a fight. I believe that facilitating 20 minutes should be a daily goal for parents and schools, but not homework for kids. I want my kids to read because they love it, not to just check off a homework assignment. On the other hand, more you read, the better you get and the better you get, the more you will probably enjoy it.
Love it or hate it, the 20-minute rule is a staple of modern schools. So here are 20 ways to get 20 minutes under your belt.
20 Minutes Reading While Out and About
One of the hardest things about being a modern parent is the constant demand on your time from all directions: sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer responsibilities, church, family. Not to mention, that we want to get out and have some family fun. These are reading opportunities that can be seized while out.
1. In the car, let your kid(s) read out loud to everyone. One of my favorite memories is when my daughter was reading out loud from 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore when she was in early grade school. This book is so funny and this was the first time I heard her use inflections in her out loud reading. Keep a book (better yet, a bagful of books) in the car and encourage family reading while you run errands.
2. Library Activities. Whether it’s a family story time, activities or homework help, iff you have a library night, chances are good that your kids have accomplished at least 20 minutes reading while there. Count it!
3. Rescue Readers. We recently had the chance to try out the Humane Society’s Rescue Readers Program. Since these are one-hour reading sessions, they definitely fulfill the 20-minutes. Encourage your animal-loving child to read by reading to her furry friends. My son insists that the cat he read to particularly liked hearing about wild cats. Maybe.
4. Book Clubs. Book Clubs are an extroverted way to make reading fun and hold kids accountable for completing a book. If you don’t want to start or commit to joining a book club with your kids, local children’s bookstores often offer a variety of book clubs throughout the year that are easy to join at your own commitment level. Go to all the meetings or just a few. These stores also offer author events and story times that can get your kids excited about reading.
5. Museum Plaques. You can find ways to read almost any place you go for family fun. If you are out at a museum or the zoo, encourage your children to read the information on the plaques next to the exhibits. Out on a hike? Stop to read the historic markers. It might take time to add up to 20 minutes, but its a fun way to learn about new things while getting out. Perhaps you can make it easier by bringing a book about whatever you are visiting, like a museum handbook.
6. StoryWalks. Although, StoryWalks tend to be more popular in the summer for obvious reasons, look for them year round. They do happen. Otherwise, maybe you can set up your own storywalk on a path through your house. Thrift store books are great for this purpose, especially if you can find two identical books, so you don’t have to flip over pages.
7. Classes/Services. I have a personal rule that religious ed nights count as 20 minutes reading. These classes take up our whole evening, so any other homework is out on those nights, but there really is plenty of reading happening during class. Likewise, Sunday services count. We read several Bible readings and prayers and we sing songs out of books.
This portion of the list could go on. The point is that, if being out cuts into your reading time, look for ways to incorporate reading into your outing: Have you children read restaurant menus out loud, read the program with them at a theatre, sporting events or weddings. You can even have them manage the grocery list while you shop.
20 Minutes Reading Digitally
I don’t want to overdo digital reading since studies are starting to show that digital reading is not as good for comprehension as ink on paper. However, these ideas beat turning on closed captioning on their favorite TV show and calling it reading.
8. Screen Mirroring. The day I found out that I could mirror my Kindle app onto our projector, I downloaded a ton of kids books from the library. Now, if we are tired, we can flop on the couch and read a picture book together as a family. The bigger kids take turns reading out loud so I don’t have to do it all. My preschooler loves this, and it really inspires her to want to be one of the readers. Screen Mirroring works with a variety of phone types and can be used with projectors and smart TVs. You can google your own equipment for directions if you are not sure how it works.
9. BookFlix. BookFlix is an online resource that all the Twin Cities metro libraries offer. It pairs video storybooks with online nonfiction picture books and then adds some games to help with comprehension. You can get through 1 or 2 book pairs in 20 minutes depending on how much you use the games and resources at the end.
10. Karaoke. Karaoke is not only a form of reading, it takes skill to keep up. It helps develop speed and accuracy as well as cadence and rhythm. Find videos with lyrics on YouTube or be old fashioned and sit at the piano with sheet music to sing. And singing your 20 minutes reading homework? Oh, yeah!
Create A Home that Encourages Reading
11. Curating and Strewing. Curating and strewing are two unschooling techniques to encourage reading that anyone can employ. Curating means making sure you have books that will interest your child on hand at all times. Strewing is intentionally leaving the books in places where your kids will discover them at opportune times. Leave a good book on the car seat or on the coffee table; leave a book about Minecraft techniques next to the computer. I like to look over the weekly updates from school and order books from the library to support whatever they are learning that week. I’m not saying this is entirely successful. Sometimes these books get read; sometimes they are ignored; sometimes I get the eye roll. Libraries are free, so it doesn’t hurt to try.
12. Comfy Reading Spaces. Whether it’s a bean bag, a bed, a corner or a couch. Every room should have a space that begs to be curled up in. Make sure you strew some well-curated books in these areas. Gianna has more ideas for building a reading nook here.
13. Magazine Subscriptions. I don’t know what it is about getting a magazine in the mail, but who can resist sitting down and binge-reading one as soon as it arrives? Not me and not my kids.
14. House Rules that Reward Reading. For instance, “You Can Stay Up As Late As You Want As Long As You Are Reading” or “We’re only going to have the chips out during reading time.” I’ve occasionally let kids out of dishes if they were reading, but I don’t want to do that too often since I don’t want to miss out on my reading time because I’m dong dishes by myself.
Um, Yeah. That Counts as Reading!
When your child’s teacher sends home that “read 20 minutes a day” handout and a chart for you to sign, verifying your child has done this homework, you can honestly vouch for them with these activities:
15. Piano Practice (or any instrument). Reading music is a form of reading — at least in my house.
16. Board Games that require reading, like Monopoly. Even homemade board games based on favorite books. Super Rabbit Boy books would make great board games that you could create together. Each of these books is already set up like a game. They have an end goal with mini challenges along the way and, because they are video-game style, players can be sent back to start over. The other thing that makes it a good option is the easy-to-imitate artwork style. This is another place where you could cut apart a thrift-store book to create a boardgame.
17. Making Dinner with a Recipe. Multi-task your kids. Let them help with dinner by reading the recipe and either following the instructions or telling you what your next steps are.
18. Science Experiments. Along the same lines as following a recipe. Following instructions for a science experiment is an important reading skill. Of course our favorite books for science experiments are by the Twin Cities’ own Kitchen Pantry Scientist, Liz Heinecke.
19. Puppet Shows or Plays from Books. My kids love it when we do this. Some books, like Caps for Sale, just lend themselves well to theatre. Look for books with not too many characters, props that you have on hand, and repetitive text for easy memorization. This is yet another place where duplicate thrift store books are great. Cut popsicle stick puppets out of one book and use the other for reading.
20. Instruction Books for video games, Legos or whatever their latest obsession might be. Sometimes we put too much emphasis on fiction. Non-fiction reading is also really important. 20 minutes reading, DONE.
If All Else Fails.
Read to yourself. It took me far too long into my parenting life to realize that reading to myself is not selfish. I am surprised how often my older kids will see me with a book, pick up their own, and sit down next to me. My younger kids are likely to bring me a book to read to them, and sometimes I will. Sometimes I arm myself with a Where’s Waldo type book and suggest they “read” to themselves. Because there are also benefits of reading 20 minutes a day for adults, and I deserve 20 minutes a day, too.
What’s your strategy for reading time? We would love to know. Share it in the comments.
This article has book suggestions in the form of Amazon affiliate links. I’m pretty sure you can find all these books at the library, but Family Fun Twin Cities receives a small commission on purchases through our links.