How to Find Time to Read as a Family on Busy Weeknights

Setting aside time to read during the week can be challenging. Fortunately, you only need 20 to 30 minutes of reading a day to boost your child’s literacy—and it’s up to you how you want to structure it! 

Here are six expert-backed ways to read as a family when time is tight.

  1. Choose quick, action-packed books.

Shorter books are a great solution to the weekday time crunch. These books (such as graphic /cartoon-style novels for older kids) make it easy to finish a whole book during your read-aloud, with time left over to sneak in a few questions about the text (and hopefully a laugh or two).

Schedule permitting, you can read the book twice, focusing on a different skill each time — a favourite tactic of 2nd-grade teacher Leana Malinowsky.

“As a teacher, I encourage my early readers to read a book twice: once for fluency, to understand the words, and a second time to comprehend the story”, Malinowsky says.

  1. Limit screen time (if possible).

There are only 24 hours in a day, so be mindful of how much time your child spends on their phone and tablets.

Limiting screen time is a favoured strategy of Cara Foley, a parent of two daughters ages 12 and 17 when she wants to see reading results in her household.

“The 12-year-old has stricter time limits than the 17-year-old,” Foley says. “She got her first mobile phone for Christmas and has to be off all technology about an hour before she goes to bed.”

This can, in turn, shift your child’s attention to books. Remember that just 20 minutes of reading a night is effective for raising a frequent reader.

If your child loves screen time—maybe they’re into gaming or streaming series—there’s a chance their favourite visual media has a book companion.

From Hunger Games to Harry Potter, iconic books have had a huge impact on readers and pop culture. Your child will cherish the memories they make from both reading the books and watching the movies, even more so if those memories are made with you.

  1. Take turns with read-aloud duty.

It would be ideal if the whole family could drop everything and read together for 30 minutes every night, but we know that isn’t always possible. If there are two of you at home, rotate read-aloud duty so your child still gets that essential one-on-one bonding time with both of you.

Families with more than one child can encourage regular reading by switching between group read-alouds and solo reading sessions.

Amanda Henry-Godino, a parent of two boys ages 9 and 10, has found success in rotating family read-alouds with independent reading nights, depending on her and her husband’s schedules. Encouraging each boy to read on their own has boosted their confidence, while family read-alouds are reserved for a special — and more complex — book that requires extra attention.

  1. Read multiple books at a time. 

Henry-Godino’s strategy for building reading skills also means the family has many books going at once. This ensures your child has no gaps in their reading schedule and makes it easier for them to read more.

With multiple books on the nightstand, your child is likely to enjoy a variety of books—essential for learning different book types, like fiction and nonfiction.

Your child may choose to reread a favourite picture book while working their way through a beginner chapter book. This way, they’ll continue learning new words and gaining reading stamina with the more complex text while improving their comprehension by revisiting familiar material with “fresh eyes.”

  1. Listen to audiobooks.

Nancy Garrity, senior director of Early Childhood at Scholastic Education Solutions, recommends listening to audiobooks as an alternative to reading when you’re travelling, perhaps in the car on the way to school or sports practice. Pairing audio with the printed book makes for a deeper connection to the text.

“Give your child a printed copy of the book to follow along with as you listen together,” Garrity suggests. “Then, you can talk about it later!”

  1. Consider alternate times of day for reading.

You don’t have to wait until bedtime to read. Families on the move should ensure their children have a book with them wherever they go.

“Take a book with you and grab a few minutes here and there — when you’re in line at the grocery store or waiting in the doctor’s office,” Garrity says.

Impromptu read-alouds with early readers can be made special with a signature flourish.

“Make a bookmark with your child’s help to hold your place when you don’t have time to get through the entire book,” Garrity says.

During the weekend, when things slow down, consider putting out a book basket for kids to pick through. Book baskets derive from the “morning basket,” a home-school concept where children select their reading material from a variety available in one place. Book baskets are an excellent way to enable self-discovery and create motivation to read.

You may discover your child prefers to read in the morning instead of at night. So make reading part of their daily routine!