Sharing books with tweens and teens

Photo of books on a shelf with a red sign about that says: Read
Image: Paul Hanaoka

At what point do we call time on reading with our children? When they’re babies it all feels so natural – but does it still feel like the right thing to do when they’re almost the same size as us?

Sharing books together was always the cornerstone of our bedtime routine. It was the point in the day when, regardless of how frazzled we all felt, that few moments cuddled up on the bed with a book saved everyone. It was a moment of closeness. A moment of shared experience. And a moment to legitimately stop and lie down.

As our children grew into curious toddlers and pre-schoolers, the bedtime story was still about that shared moment – but it also became a way to share learning and language. We began to explore the world further, and books were the springboard for discussions about our own lives and experiences. The stories we read together helped prepare our children for life in the big wide world; starting school, managing emotions and flying to the moon and back in a cardboard box. Anything was possible if you’d read about it in the safety of your bed at night.

Next on our reading journey came the holy grail of bedtime stories: the chapter books. Two or three of us piled into one bed every night for the latest installment of The BFG or Hodgeheg, Harry Potter or The Rooftoppers. As the late primary years crept up on us, we’d share the reading so that everyone had the chance to practise their own silly voices and sharpen up their reading aloud skills. It was also the time we discovered the joy of more non-fiction picture books. Animals of the world. Cities of the world. Rebel boys and girls. Being able to simply dip in and out of a book at the end of a busy day was just the tonic.

And here we are now. Our tween still loves to cuddle up at bedtime with a good book. He doesn’t always want us to read it to him – or with him – but he generally likes us by his side at the end of the day. So I’ve started to bring my own novel into bed on those nights. We read alongside each other…and that’s just lovely. When we’ve finished we talk about the best bits, have a cuddle and call time on the day.

Lately, I discovered something just as good to keep my teenager and I connected through stories: I’ve started to read his English texts from school. He brings them home and I read a few chapters a night when he’s in bed. We talk about it over breakfast or after school, and suddenly I don’t feel quite so disconnected from his reading journey. And although I don’t jump into bed and read his dystopian fantasy novels over his shoulder, I will always, always pop my head in for a bedtime cuddle. That will never stop being the most natural thing in the world.

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