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In part one of this series, we’ve been talking about the habits that good readers use. But one of those habits is actually making reading itself a habit.
From what I’ve seen and heard, most people think that reading more would be a good thing for their lives – yet they don’t do as much of it as they wish they would.
People have mentioned various reasons to me:
- “I don’t read on the weekdays or else I’d not get enough sleep” (yep, been there, done that – the not sleeping. Not the not reading…)
- “I only read on school vacations” – teachers and students
- “I don’t have enough time” – moms, dads, and pretty much anyone in middle school and beyond
- “I don’t know what to read” – lots of people
People in general say that they don’t have time for things.
But the reality is, as I recently read in Off the Clock: we actually have more time than we think we do. It’s a matter of prioritizing.
Think about all the habits that people make time for:
- brushing their teeth
- scrolling through social media
I opine that reading as a habit can be high on your priority list too. However, it doesn’t have to mean that your priority is to read X number of books per week/month/year. But more on that later.
First, let’s talk about why reading merits becoming a habit in your life and the lives of the little (or big) people you love.
Why develop a reading habit?
If we want to include something in our lives, we need to be intentional about it.
It’s one thing to say that you want to go to the Galápagos Islands; it’s another thing to actually plan and go. (Working on that, now, in fact. Well, sort of. I’m intending to.)
Same with reading, and any other goals in your life: you can say you wish you would read more, but it’s not going to happen unless you plan it and do it.
There are some fabulous reasons that turning reading into a habit can benefit you – lots of research-documented reasons, actually.
To begin, let’s talk about how creating a reading habit with your child helps them: whether you read to your tiny tots or your bigger kids are reading to themselves, books expose them to an enormous variety of language that increases their knowledge of the world and helps them succeed in school. In fact, reading outside of school is one of the biggest predictors of success inside of school.
I cannot stress enough the importance of reading all kinds of text types and topics with or to your children, all throughout childhood. Not only does it increase their knowledge of language and help them learn to read, it increases their brain’s capacity to think critically and solve problems. It enlarges their ability to empathize with those who lead different lives. Reading boosts their creativity.
What about adults, though?
Do adults benefit from reading too?
Reading does the same things for adults that it does for kids.
But just in case you’re not convinced, let’s look at a few more benefits. (While these apply to kids also, people tend to associate these ideas with adults more than children.)
Reading reduces stress – even more than taking a walk, according to one study.
It (supposedly) can help you prepare for sleep – though, if my life is any indication, it has to be a non-page-turner, or I just stay awake forever.
Reading helps you live a longer life. Can you believe that one study conducted over a period of twelve years found that people who read books had a 23-month survival advantage over others?? Reading could actually add years to your life! Wowzers.
It keeps your brain sharp! “Cognitive decline” is not something any of us want. The U.S. National Institute on Aging suggests reading as an activity to help prevent dementia – even though there haven’t been conclusive studies showing causation. (Full disclosure: my grandma read books galore and still got Alzheimer’s. So it’s not guaranteed. But perhaps it can help in some cases?)
There’s more benefits of reading. In fact, I have a blog post sitting in my drafts folder that lists 23 reasons why reading is so amazingly beneficial. But I think I’ll leave that for another day.
How to Develop a Reading Habit
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty here.
How does one form a reading habit?
STEP ONE: Choose a Regular Time
In The Power of Habit, Duhigg explains how habits begin as conscious decisions, but then, over time, become automated.
He also discusses how there are three main parts to any habit:
For instance, I have a habit of brushing my teeth every night.
My cue is when I decide to get ready for bed. At this point, I have to consciously decide not to brush my teeth. I’ve even tried not to brush my teeth some nights when I’m so tired and I stayed up too late. But then the cue of putting on pajamas and using the bathroom just put me into autopilot.
The routine is brushing and flossing, and then the reward, I suppose is that minty-fresh feeling in my mouth and non-fuzzy teeth. Plus the knowledge that I did something good for myself.
Now, hopefully, your parents helped you develop such a solid habit as a child so that you weren’t really aware of the formation of the habit.
Maybe, your parents even helped you develop a habit of reading, too. If so, fantastic.
But statistically, if a sample of the population in the UK is any indication, a lot of us, somewhere between elementary school and high school, seem to forego reading when it is not required of us – and then struggle to come back to it as adults.
I’ve turned it into part of my bedtime routine – soon after the teeth brushing. After my pearly whites are freshly cleaned, and I’ve lotioned up my face and hands, and said my prayers, I turn back the covers, climb into bed and grab my book of choice (currently my Kindle as books in English are hard to come by in a Spanish-speaking, not-first-world country).
Some nights, I’m so tired, I make it 10 minutes before my eyes are closing. Some nights, I’m positive it’s only been 20 minutes, but I look at the clock and it’s been an hour (or more). #perksofbeingsingle – no one is asking me to turn off my light.
It doesn’t matter, though: whether 10 minutes or an hour, this reading before bed thing is entrenched in my 24-hour cycle of living. Honestly, if I go a day without reading much, I feel like part of my soul is being deprived of something vital. Perhaps strange, but true.
So in the case of reading:
The cue: climbing into bed
The routine: read til my eyes can’t stay open
The reward: learning new things, escaping into imaginary worlds, understanding the experiences of others, vicariously traveling, using my imagination, being encouraged in my faith, the feeling of accomplishment of reading lots of books and meeting goals…the list goes on and on.
Now, I don’t know about your life: maybe your responsibilities and routines aren’t conducive to before-sleep reading.
Maybe, instead, you want to devote the first few minutes after waking up.
For me, reading in the morning is a once-in-a-while treat, because otherwise I wouldn’t get out of bed til I’d finished the book. Plus, my wake-up time is reserved for journaling, reading my Bible, and praying (another habit).
In general, here are some suggestions for moments in your daily or weekly routines when you could build reading into your life as a habit:
- As previously mentioned: before bed or upon waking
- Listen to audiobooks on your commute, while you exercise, or while you do household chores (yes, audiobooks count!)
- Build in a weekly, or twice-weekly coffee shop-reading date – all to yourself
- Make a slow weekend morning your time for reading. What’s better than a hot beverage, a sunny livingroom, a comfy couch, and a delicious book?
- Read after the kids are in bed, but before you yourself go to bed
- Participate in a book club, so you have to read before the next meeting (accountability is a really effective thing!)
- During your kids’ rest/nap time, use 20 minutes of it to enjoy a book
- Have a family reading time – you can read your own book while the kids read their own (or you read to them)
- If you fly regularly, dedicate a chunk of the flight as reading time
- Keep a book in your car/purse/backpack so that any time you’re waiting in line or waiting to pick up kids, or waiting in general, you can use the time to read
It may be that you find you spend time on your phone or streaming a show instead of reading. If that’s the case, you may want to use Duhigg’s suggestion for changing your habits: when you have your cue of “I’m tired and want to relax,” try replacing your routine of scrolling and streaming with a new routine: reading books that relax you.
STEP TWO: Choose a Process Goal
In her book Off the Clock: How to Feel Less Busy and Get More Done, Laura Vanderkam discusses how setting “Better Than Nothing Goals” or “BTN Goals” is worthwhile because “small actions, done over time and with persistence, have big results.” (That’s not quite an exact quote, but since I listened to the audiobook version, I got as close as I could.)
Whatever you pick as your time of choice, as Vanderkam recommends, try designating a process goal rather than an end goal. End goals (e.g. “I will read 35 books in 2021”) make it harder to track your progress. Process goals are tangible, easily measurable, and add up to big things over time.
My recommendation for a process goal for reading is to set a goal for an amount of time per day that you read.
How much time per day, though?
That’s going to depend on you.
Vanderkam’s recommendation is to set a small goal that has little-to-no “resistance” so that you start to make progress. When you make reading into a do-able habit, it allows you to do something, which is better than nothing, even if it’s not as much as you want to eventually do.
For instance, when I was reading that chapter in Off the Clock, I thought about how I’ve let my exercise habit slide with all the cold, rainy weather the last month or two. And I’ve also slid right into the rotten cycle of feeling lethargic so I don’t even want to muster up the energy to be productive, which means I don’t make myself work out, which makes me even more apathetic and lethargic about life.
So I decided as of, you know, yesterday, that I’m going to work out for at least 10 minutes, 6 days a week.
I can handle 10 minutes. I mean, I spend more than 10 minutes scrolling through social media on any given day.
Ten minutes is hardly anything. I could work out for 10 minutes on a break during the school day, for crying out loud.
I’m not putting any parameters on what kind of exercise. Heck, I’ll be counting stretching as 10 of my minutes at least one day per week.
But I can do 10 minutes of moving my body.
And the thing is, the last two days, I’ve ended up doing 20 minutes. (Confession: I almost didn’t today. Which would have been pathetic. And then I thought about how it was only 10 minutes, and I’d be writing about it on this blog post, so I changed and worked out with my girl Cassey Ho for a few minutes. [I’ve never actually met her. But she talks to you as if she knows you on her YouTube workouts.])
I’m guessing you’ll find something similar to Vanderkam: you can stop as soon as you meet your minimum goal. But you can also keep going, because the hardest part is getting started. Once you’re in workout clothes and sweaty (or a few pages into a book), you may just keep going. And that’s good too.
So how long do you want to read each day?
Make your goal small enough that you can meet it. That way, you’ll realize you’re meeting your “BTN goal” and the cumulative effect will be seen over time.
The average audiobook is 10 listening hours.
If you listen for 30 minutes a day (on your commute, while cooking dinner, etc.), it’ll take you about three weeks to finish one book. Okay, great. That means that you could finish about 17 audiobooks in a year. Or, if you listen at 2x the speed (I can’t. It’s too fast for my brain), you could finish twice that amount. That’s a great amount of books, too!
Whatever the amount of time that you choose as your BTN goal, stick with it!
STEP THREE: Always Have More Books at the Ready
You might be wondering, though…how does one always have another book to read as soon as you finish one?
Glad you asked.
I discuss book hunting in a lot more detail in a previous post, so check it out for all the juicy details.
But what I’ll say here, is that even the process of finding more books should become part of your routine. Otherwise, you’ll stop reading simply because you don’t have reading materials. And that’s no good.
You don’t have to be rigid about setting a routine for finding good books. But perhaps your cue can be every few weeks as you’re preparing to return books to the library and get out new ones, or when you realize you’re running out of fresh reading material. When that happens, take the time to find book suggestions and research potential titles for what you want to read next.
As one fellow reader commented, being picky can pay off, because the books you read end up being more satisfying than reading whatever anyone suggests. (But my caution is: be picky according to your own parameters, but not so picky that you never try new things.)
My biggest suggestion on how to keep a regular flow of good books on your radar is to spend some time finding the avid readers in your life or some book bloggers. Or befriend your local bookshop owner or librarian.
Any one of these sources will be happy to talk books with you. It might take some trial and error to find the people who like to read similar kinds of books as you do, but it’s well worth the effort.
Tips for Grownups at Home
Woah, there, Christina, you just spent the whole post talking to grownups and didn’t even mention how you do this in your classroom!
But really, how I do it in my classroom is essentially the same recommendation I have for the grownups who are trying to help their littles.
And it’s the same thing that I told the adults in the above section:
Set an amount of time each day when either
a) you will read to your child or b) they will read independently.
Or even set a time for both!
In my classroom, (in normal, non-COVID life when we’re not online) we start every ELA class with students reading independently between 10-20 minutes, as recommended by Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer. (Are you guys tired of me referring back to this book yet? Can’t say I’m too sorry. It’s a really great book.)
During that time, I talk with kids one-on-one about their current reads, their past reads, and I coach them on how to pick good future reads.
Remember, your role in helping your child develop a reading habit is twofold:
- Model a reading life yourself
- Guide your child in developing his/her own reading life
Therefore, you’ll model making reading a habit by choosing a time that you read and a minimum amount of time that you will read.
As the person who structures your kids’ schedule, you’ll find the time each day to read to them or have them read independently and for how long.
You can/will also become a book recommender for the kids in your care and guide them in finding book recommendations through book lists and book friends.
If you’d like some recommendations of kids books, here are some book lists you can use, both from me and from others. These are U.S./English language-centric, but I hope they get you started. As always, use parental discretion:
- 50 Read-aloud Suggestions for All Ages
- 10 Notable Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators
- Sonlight’s Just Great Books or click here to learn about their grade-level book lists
- 50 Books Kids Should Read Before Age 12 (Common Sense Media)
- 100 Best Kids’ Books of All Time (Time Media) Note – they’re mostly picture books
How do you make reading a regular part of your life? Do you have a specific time or goal for each day? Let me know in the comments below!