Establishing Reading Routines at Home Helps Calm Our Children

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  • March 24, 2020

So many people are hunkered down in their homes right now helping to curb the spread of a worldwide pandemic. Schools and daycares have closed, and many of us feel like we’re taking care of our children while attempting to try to work from home — if that’s even an option! If you’re at your wit’s end, and you can only focus on one detail at the moment, establishing reading routines at home can help you get through this. Keep scrolling for helpful hints about that and a handy infographic to help you schedule your day.

Experts Recommend Storytelling Rituals and Routines

Dr. Dianne Gerard Ph.D.  helped many people on Kauai regain their perspective and sense of safety by recommending rituals following Hurricane Iniki. She expressed that people remember their bedtime routines and rituals into adulthood. Books and story time is a calming activity that can make babies and children feel comforted and reassured.

You don’t have to be a Ph.D. to know how much better your own kids do on some kind of schedule. Don’t feel like making your own? Print this one and tape it to the fridge — it includes your naps and appropriate bedtime.

Reading Isn’t Just for Bedtime

You’ve heard of bedtime stories, but what about naptime stories? After all, the same calming effect of hearing a story at bedtime works at naptime, too.

For those children who have outgrown naps, and even those who read, how about a quiet time story? Reading together is still a great way to connect with your children in a calm, screen-free way. Establishing reading routines at home at any age will create memories they’ll cherish forever.

Make a Reading “Nook”

Right now, with what you have in your home, you can create a “reading nook” to help everyone get in the mood.

Find an empty spot in your house, pile in some pillows and a big cozy blanket. Kids LOVE forts, so call it a “reading fort”, “book castle”, or whatever it takes. You know your little ones, and you know what makes them tick.

It’s OK to Read it Twice or More

We’ve all read that one book so many times, it plays on repeat in your head as you try to drift off. But just because you can’t fathom one more repeat of “Goodnight Moon” doesn’t mean there isn’t some good in repetition.

During trying times, kids will cling to the familiar. Reading a book you’ve read repeatedly might go a long way to make them feel like everything is “situation normal”. We may not know what’s going to happen tomorrow or in a week, but we do know that bowl of mush is going to be on that table every single time!

Repetition also helps kids develop deeper understanding, character development, and even recognize the details in the illustrations. After all, it can take a few times through to see the toy elephant on the bottom shelf in the room, or wonder about who decorated everything in those garish colors! Many times, reading a familiar book will create spinoff discussions and ideas. Kids have amazing imaginations!

Establishing Reading Routines with Shared Reading

If you have a reader in your home, they can practice with you. Schools don’t do as many “read-alouds” with kids as they used to, and many kids don’t feel comfortable reading in front of an entire group. At home, in their cozy nook, with mom or dad, they might be willing to share the task of reading.

At the same time, just because your child CAN read, doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from being read to. The sound of your voice, the inflections an experienced reader brings, and the calming task of listening can take stress off of their little shoulders.

RELATED: The Best Parts of Your Childhood Probably Involved Things Today’s Kids Will Never Know

What Can Add to the Home Reading Experience?

You’ve read Goodnight Moon again. Your three-year-old has pointed out every detail down to how many rows the “old lady whispering hush” has knitted in her chair. How about an art project? With limited supplies and ability, you can delight your preschooler. Sketch a moon and sky and give him a box of crayons. Challenge him to add his own “stars” and whatever his heart desires. After all, with “adult coloring”  recently made popular as a calming activity, coloring is a form of meditation for some.

Kim remembers doing projects like this with her girls:

“After we read The Paper Princess…the next day we got out paper, crayons, and colored pencils, and made our own paper princesses and then followed up with accessories (clothes, a bed etc)! Later we end up giving this “kit” to their friends for their birthdays!

Kids are Natural Bookworms

The tiniest of babies will respond when they hear their parents’ voices. After all, they have been hearing them since before they entered the world. So, when you have a very young child, picture books are an excellent way to engage their senses without overstimulation. In fact, they can create a sense of calm at bedtime and all day long.

From The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight 3rd Edition:

“As you turn the pages of Are You My Mother? for the umpteenth time, you wonder how your baby cannot be tired of this book yet. Research shows, however, that picture books—even those ones that both you and your baby have memorized— are not just a great way to develop the brain. They do wonders for bonding and soothing, especially at bedtime.

While your baby is not actually “reading” the book, she is learning the important elements of reading—things like practicing page turning and distinguishing words. As your baby grows, you will notice she imitates your finger pointing and voice inflections as you read characters’ dialogue.

Reading books can be a great way to cue bedtime. Some parents choose to play an audiobook, turn on cartoons, or read an illustrated bedtime story—but some recent research showed that of these options, the old-fashioned book is best for developing baby’s brain. Try to avoid the e-book versions of classic childhood books, especially at bedtime and nap time, since the glow of the electronic device can disrupt sleep cycles and circadian rhythms, your child’s natural “body clock.” And swiping a tablet is not as gratifying for a child as turning a page and feeling the achievement of finishing a book, as you close the cover, saying, “The end.”

By reading picture books, you are helping your child’s neural connections and her ability to eventually learn to read all by herself. In fact, thirteen to eighteen months is the ideal age to incorporate more books into your baby’s life. They are experiencing a slow but steady growth in vocabulary and can point to pictures and recognize faces and characters. You can watch them enjoy it.

This kind of engagement, especially when it is with a family member or caregiver, also fosters a closeness and interaction beneficial to promoting nighttime security, bedtime cues, and a healthy sleepy-time routine. Parents love this bedtime story time, too. You may keep reading together for years to come.”

What are some Great Children’s Books?

If the library is closed and passing around books with friends isn’t an option, we still have Amazon. If you’re looking to add to your home library, here are some favorites from Kim West, The Sleep Lady:

Stelluna

Verdi

Rainbow Fish

The Lonely Doll

The Lion and the Red Bird

Angelina Ballerina

Bad Case of Stripes

Streganona

The Giving Tree

Good Night Moon

Kissing Hand

Corduroy

Zen Shorts

The Silver Lining to Difficult Times

The simple act of establishing reading routines at home, along with maintaining naps and bedtimes, will help bring you the calm you need now. The old adage of “kids thrive on routine” is never truer than during tough times.  This too shall pass. When it does, your children will always remember being cozy, calm, and safe with you.

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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