One of the most popular forms of homework is usually some version of a weekly reading log, where students read for at least 20 minutes each day. As a former classroom teacher turned school librarian/reading specialist, I have mixed feelings about this assignment.
Let’s be happy whenever students are encouraged to read, especially if the alternative is a worksheet.
This is the type of assignment that could go a long way toward making reading a daily habit, if both the teacher and parents frame it in a way that makes it seem less like an assignment and more like a gift.
But when parents (and teachers!) fall into certain “reading log traps,” they may be causing more harm than good when it comes to nurturing a lifelong reading habit.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Required Reading Minutes/Reading Logs
DO let your child know that he/she is lucky to be given designated time at home to read. In gentle ways, remind that them that reading is a great way to relax, learn more about interesting topics, meet characters that will feel like friends (and enemies!). This is not another boring worksheet! Need some inspiration to make it more fun? Check out this teacher’s creative and no pressure reading log idea (thanks for sharing this far and wide, Scary Mommy!) This works just as well for parents/caregivers if your reading routine needs a reboot.
DO read with your child! Let your child be the guide here. If they want to read independently, you do the same, in the same room, with a book or magazine of your choice. Take a break halfway or wait until the end to discuss your books! If you’re reading on a device, make sure your child knows that you’re really reading and not just scrolling social media.
DON’T be afraid to read to your child! Depending on the book your child picks, it is very appropriate for you to read part of the 20 minutes to your child. For example, when my son first started reading Harry Potter in 3rd grade, he didn’t have the stamina to push through the challenging vocabulary words. Sometimes he would read a page and then I’d read a page. Sometimes he’d read 3 pages and then I’d read the rest of the chapter. It depended on how tired he was, the time of day, and what was happening in the story. If the book is too difficult, it’s tough for your child to decode the words, pay attention to the plot, and derive meaning from the words for 20 minutes straight. And when it’s that hard, it’s no longer enjoyable.
DO ask your child’s teacher if you can be flexible with the 20 minutes. For example, we all know how those certain nights of the week feel over-committed. Or perhaps it’s just one of those nights where you feel your child can’t handle one more thing.
Ask if you can make the minutes up another night or over the weekend.
DO sign the reading log and make sure your child filled it out. We know it’s a formality and one more thing to do, but it sends a message to your child that you’re dedicated to helping them become the best readers they can be. But it need not be laborious. I found that after reading in bed each night, we’d get sleepy, and the last thing we felt like doing was filling out a reading log! We’d record what we read the next day and chose to doze off happily instead. Keep the log in a place where you’ll remember to return it. I usually set mine out on our counter so we’d see it during breakfast.
DON’T lie. This seems like common sense. It is. Don’t do it. If you didn’t read, you didn’t read and will make it up another day.
DO take breaks. If your child is struggling to read for 20 minutes at a time, start at 5 minutes. Challenge them to add another few minutes or so until you’ve worked up to 20 (or more).
DON’T set a timer. I know this seems counterintuitive, but you’re setting it up like a chore when you do this. Ideally, you’d like your child to get lost in the book, not check the timer every few minutes.
DO use a timer for more bedtime reading as a reward! If my daughter has done something really well throughout the day, I mention that she can add a few minutes to the bookmark she uses that has a built-in timer. She knows this pushes bedtime off a few more minutes and loves setting the timer for a few extra minutes of reading when we should be turning off the light! This is a great way to turn reading from a chore to a treat.
DO create a reading routine and do your best to stick with it. We read before bed nightly and I’m convinced this habit signals my children’s brains to settle down because bedtime is right around the corner. Calm kids at bedtime? Yes, please!
DO talk with your kids about what they are reading during this time, should they want to read independently. Avoid peppering them with lots of questions, rather try to give it a more conversation-like feel.
DO offer a snack or drink if you’re doing your required reading after school. There’s nothing wrong with munching and sipping while you read and on busy days, it’s helpful to accomplish two things at once (just be cautious with library books).
DO offer a notebook or sketchpad to keep handy.
Many children LOVE nonfiction, and this can often prompt kids to write down their favorite facts, draw pictures, or make a list of questions to research. This is yet another way to make reading more of a hobby and less of a homework assignment.
DO help them with access to books they want to read. Trips to the library, local bookstore, or virtual trip online is a must if your child is not bringing home books that excite them from the classroom or school library. See our handy list of favorite sources for book recommendations your kids will love. Or check out our book reviews page.
DO use an app like Goodreads IF (and this is a big IF) your child is competitive and would enjoy keeping track of how many books are read within a certain time period. This wouldn’t work for my kids, but it would for Nicole’s kids.
DON’T give out rewards for reading other than praise. Why? Because reading is the reward in and of itself.
DO connect your child with others who have similar interests in books. Check your library, bookstores, and online to allow your child to know that just like other hobbies, people like to connect with others over a shared favorite.
DO help your child write a book review on Amazon or Goodreads when you finish a book. These are things “real” adult readers do and completing activities like this will alert your child that the time spent reading is not “just” an assignment.
And if you need to be convinced of the actual benefit of reading for 20 minutes each day, think about this: students who read for that long every day are, on average, exposed to 1.8 million words per year.
We want children to arm themselves with vocabulary and reading comprehension skills that will not only give them an advantage in school, but more importantly, help them live a more meaningful life.
The most important piece of advice about reading homework/reading logs: RELAX. If kids seeing you stressing about it, they’ll feed off that. Once you get into the hang of it, it really will become routine.
We’ll be sharing what our “20 minutes of reading a day” routine looks like with each of our kids (age 6, 8, 9, and 11) over the next 4 days on our social media channels. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Pinterest.
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.