During these weird, semi-structured COVID-19 summer days, without summer camps to fill the time, my kids are expected to read for 20-30 minutes a day (depending on their age) during DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time.
Yes, I wish the amount of reading they did each day was more. And yes, it’s hard for me as a book-loving adult (and a voracious former kid-reader) to understand why this amount is even negotiated or questioned to begin with.
(Then again, when I was a kid during long summer days in the 1980s, I didn’t have a personal tablet or computer to distract me. I’m willing to bet a significant amount of money that I would be equally distracted by such amazing devices. )
So… What does this daily “required reading” look like for my 2E kiddos? I’ll share a bit below about the challenges and strengths for each of them, with the emergent theme that “gifted” does NOT necessarily translate into a kid quietly sitting and reading by herself for hours on end. (Well, that was me… but not my kids.)
- C (my ~12 y.o. daughter) chooses to read weekly graphic novel serials on a site called Webtoons. She found this site herself, and loves it. The upside is she can get completely absorbed and read for hours (far beyond the minimum required daily reading time). The downside is that these stories aren’t vetted by anyone other than the website. The other day she stumbled on a new series that intrigued her while also scaring her. (Let’s just say… it involved death and killing in an unpleasant way.) She had a rough evening. BUT – we used it as an opportunity to talk about how there is a lot (a LOT) of deeply unpleasant stuff out there on the internet, and she will have to learn for herself when to turn away. This is an important life lesson, one I’m guessing most parents (including myself) would prefer to put off as long as possible, but… for us, it’s here.
- D (my 10 y.o. son) is a neurodiverse kiddo and tends to prefer either factual books or series with a predictable format. For the past number of months, he has chosen the 39 Clues series as his go-to favorite. This is a perfectly fine choice, but I suddenly realized a few weeks ago that only being mid-way through the 6th book in the series, when he started the first one back in January meant… Wait, how much is this kid actually reading (or not) during his reading time? He loves timers, and I know he was actually setting one each day, but without me doing any kind of progress monitoring, there was – shall we say – a disconnect. A happy solution is that I recently talked with him about a schedule for getting through one book a week. We agreed he would split each book up into chapters, divided by 7, and he would commit to reading that many chapters each day. Lo and behold, he’s suddenly on track and reading what feels like a semi-reasonable amount! I still don’t know what kind of a shift this triggered in his head, but it worked and he’s happy, so – win/win.
- My 7 y.o. daughter can read chapter books but has regressed (I know that’s a loaded term; I’m using it intentionally) to reading primarily pictures books and easy-to-read books during COVID. She adores Mo Willem’s awesome Elephant and Piggie series, and otherwise lately has been re-reading the same easy-to-read chapter book – Diary of a Pug: Pug Blasts Off (2019) – multiple times a day, many days in a row. As a kid, I myself obsessively read about a book a day, eagerly looking forward to how many new books I could check off my mental list. I considered an unread book an exciting mystery to be explored, with re-reading happening occasionally – but only for my most beloved books, and never as a default. But honestly – who am I to judge my daughter’s reading choices? I need to check that tendency. [UPDATE: I bought her the two sequels! She’s similarly obsessed.]
The other sustained reading in our household occurs at night, when my husband and I each read either to our son or our two girls (youngest, then oldest) every other night. Being read to before bedtime is a cherished memory from my own childhood, and is also a beloved ritual from my elementary school teaching days, when I would rarely let anything get in the way of reading a chapter or two to my students as they sat (mostly) rapt at the rug, listening and quiet (ah, quiet).
Read-aloud time at night with my own kids is a chance not only to engage in literary worlds with them, but to expose them to slightly more demanding or complex books they otherwise wouldn’t necessarily choose for themselves. My husband and I can talk them through challenging sections, and use the stories as a bridge for other topics that come up throughout the days and weeks and months.
Here’s what I’ve been up to during read-aloud time with my kids recently:
- I just finished reading Beverly Cleary’s beloved Ramona Quimby series to my 7 y.o., who was instantly engaged and could relate to so much of what Ramona goes through, both struggles and triumphs, as she ages naturally throughout the books.
- My 10 y.o. son and I just finished (finally! they’re long!) the fourth book in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time quartet, called Many Waters (1986). It goes in some unexpectedly adult directions, and I had to read carefully and cautiously between the lines at times – but he insisted on sticking with it, and it allowed us to continue our ongoing discussions of space, time, and existence, all as creatively conceived by L’Engle.
- With my 12 y.o. daughter, we recently read The War That Saved My Life (2016) and The War I Finally Won (2019) (its sequel) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. These were significant not only for allowing her to discuss the brutal realities of World War II (war and violence have been a major trigger for her anxiety in years past), but to be able to compare a life of restriction for kids in WWII-era England with life now in COVID. We are obviously so much better off now, but she doesn’t know that from her own lived experience – and I sense it helped her to hear about other kids dealing with less-than-ideal (to put it mildly) life circumstances. These books also gave me an opportunity to talk with her about Hitler, genocide, and Resistance movements, including the fact that her own grandfather was a small boy on a farm in Nazi-occupied Norway when his dad was hiding Resistance fighters in the forest behind their house. She took in this information carefully and seems to be considering how it all relates to the fictional stories we just completed.
So, that’s a snapshot of reading in our house. All told, with DEAR and read-aloud time combined, each kid gets about an hour of “book reading” in each day.
It may not be as much as I’d prefer, but we’re making it work for our unique household – and as I put it into writing, I realize it’s more than it seems.