Stop reading to your kids twenty minutes every day. Stop it. Just stop it.
If every night you shuffle to your children’s bedroom the obligatory twenty minutes before official bedtime to read them a few books just because some nanny voice in your head is belaboring the point, then stop it.
If you harumph, and snort, and roll your eyes through the basic language and simple stories that you’ve read nineteen hundred times in the past week trying to make each book as dull as possible so your child will pick another one next time, then stop it.
If you find yourself staring at the clock, your phone, or worse – a timer, just to make sure you get the magical twenty minutes of reading that your child’s teacher has drilled into your head as a homework assignment for you, then stop it.
If the only reason you want your child to know how to read is so they can get a job at some point, then stop it. School will cover the basics.
Read to your child five minutes, thirty minutes, ten minutes, zero minutes, or one hundred minutes every day. Let them get excited about a book they want to read and then stop what you’re doing and read it to them. If someone else is driving in the car, read a book to the back seat when you’re stuck in traffic. If you’re tired of your selection, go to the library and let them pick out a few books to read.
If you’re making the twenty-minute mark a chore, a dreaded affair, a battle with your child, then stop it. Make the books available. Pick up one of theirs occasionally and read it out loud while they wander the room. Make noises when you read. If they’re interested in something, find a book with that animal, noise, toy, etc. in a leading role. Read the book upside down or backwards just for fun. If your child is old enough, ask them what they think about what happened – was it funny, sad, did the main character do what he or she would have done?
Still, the best inspiration I’ve found for getting my rambunctious 3-year-old to want to read is to let her see me reading a book. So maybe you should read a book for twenty minutes. Okay, twenty minutes of book-reading time is a bit absurd to consider if you have small children, but always have one started so that when you get a minute of quiet play you can pick it up.
Twenty minutes a day is good benchmark, but not a magic number. Bedtime is a great opportunity to snuggle and get involved in a story, but it is not the only time for reading. Reading is not just so your child will one day know what words look like on a page – it is for storytelling, critical thinking, understanding, patience, focus, language acquisition, beauty, communication, problem-solving, and living outside of oneself.