Kate asked in the comments last week if I could share some tips on reading together as a family. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments, too!
Make it a priority. The things we really commit to are the things that actually happen, right? It seems obvious, but sometimes even the obvious takes commitment and work. Reading aloud was part of my adult life long before I had kids. I'm not a big fan of driving, but my husband was happy to do it as long as I read aloud (Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Chandler). Another of our family priorities is having dinner together. Wouldn't it be easy to say, one child has a baseball game at 5:30 and the other has track practice at 6 so a family dinner just won't happen? Instead, we have been eating a lot of 8:30 dinners. (Of course we couldn't do that when the kids were younger, but they didn't have activities 4 nights a week when they were younger either.) I try to focus on this: the time we have with our kids as they're growing up is so short, how do I really want to spend that time?
Which came first? Were my kids born to feel pleasure at being read to or did we instill that joy by doing it? (Probably some of each. I'm so very lucky I have two kids who can listen and imagine.) We started with board books, moved to picture books, then early chapter books (My Father's Dragon was our very first, when J was 4), then books that were slightly more advanced than they were. The people who know say to read a couple of grade levels ahead when you're reading aloud -- a great time to experience more complex sentence struture and vocabulary. We took that advice with a grain of salt, as the kids are three years apart, and at some point, J was capable of reading everything anyway. So we focus on the story itself and does it have the components that make it enjoyable reading -- which does include sentence structure & vocabulary, but also engaging characters, action, and humor.
Announce your intentions. I've been telling my kids since they were little, "I'm going to read aloud to you even when you're in high school."
Pick a time that works for you, when you can be consistent. These days, about 75% of our reading is done in the car. We even read on the way to grandma & grandpa's, which is 25 minutes away. We read a lot more in the summer than we do the rest of the year. Before I had kids, I read an article that suggested reading to your kids while they're washing the dishes. Doesn't that sound lovely?
We also have several books going at once -- our family book (for all four of us), a book for just J & F & me in the summer since we're home together more, and a book for just F & me because it gives us some special time together. And I wonder why it takes me three weeks to read a book of my own!
Who will do the reading? In our family, it's almost always me -- because I enjoy it. My husband & I took turns reading the last part of Bridge to Terabithia, because neither of us could go more than a paragraph or two without getting overwhelmed by grief. (And incidentally, I think that's one of the many benefits of reading together, when your kids see that you've entered that world too, and that you are openly expressing your emotions about it. When J & I read Walk Two Moons, I cried so hard I had to put the book down.) Sometimes J reads to us in the car if I'm driving or tired. If you don't want to do all the reading yourself, you can make listening to audiobooks an event. A few years ago, in the deep of winter, we switched from watching movies as a family to listening to an audiobook (The Thief Lord, narrated by Simon Jones -- highly recommended!), including all four of us snuggled up on the couch eating popcorn.
Make it happen. The sooner you start and the more consistent you are, the more your family will expect and even anticipate it. For us, it is some of our most valued family time. Here are a few other resources:
Jim Trelease (author of The Read Aloud Handbook)
Summer Reading by one of my blog readers