Drop Everything and Read

How to recapture the JOY of reading when the drudgery of schoolwork snatches it

I’m grateful for the incredible feats performed by our school staff in the last month. They’ve successfully implemented a totally new teaching medium. They have been incredibly organized, communicative, and responsive. They are teaching all the same material, with the added challenge of having to come up with YouTube videos, schedule one-on-one video chats, and create means of administering work digitally.

But… It has not been an easy transition at home. I feel like my kids hit a brick wall yesterday with online schooling. They’re not used to being on screens so much. They can’t ask questions easily. They don’t feel the same accountability. They’re overwhelmed by the workload. They’re easily distracted by people and things at home. It’s just hard.

Yesterday, they cried, threw things, yelled, broke down, and threw tantrums. After 3 ½ hours of work, neither of my elementary-schoolers had finished half the material. They were DONE. Honestly, so was I.

Today we started fresh, but not in the traditional way. I knew I needed to find a way to restore their natural curiosity and the joy of learning. I quickly assembled a few items for a read-a-thon and announced we were having a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) day.

If your family needs a way to brighten the at-home learning experience, this just might be the ticket. According to Jim Trelease, author of the landmark work The Read Aloud Handbook, “What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we make them learn.”

Here are my tips for creating DEAR success:

  1. Let your child choose what they want to read.

Graphic novels, picture books, magazines, family photo books, small engine repair, or the umpteenth book in a series – they all count! The goal is not to get your child to read something you deem valuable. The goal here is to get your child to want to read.

  1. Set out snacks.

For ours, I chose dry snack (pretzels, yogurt-covered raisins, and mini marshmallows), so that fingers and pages wouldn’t get sticky. Remember to refill snack bowls partway through your read-a-thon.


  1. Fill spill-proof bottles with a special drink.

I bought a variety of sugar-free drink packets and let the kids fill their own bottles. But juice, lemonade, or capri-suns would work great, too! The idea is to make this time special.

  1. Get comfortable!

My kids lay out blankets and pillows on the floor and cuddle with their favorites Squish-mallows.

  1. Set an expectation for the amount of time you’ll read.

This is especially important for reluctant readers, who sometimes dread the chore because reading is difficult for them. I chose two hours, because my kids are old enough to sustain attention for that length of time and the baby was napping. It was perfect.

  1. Everybody reads.

This means YOU need to have a book you want to read, too. Today, I chose Where the Red Fern Grows, because my 11-year-old recommended it to me. I value the connection that comes when I read books my child loves. Turns out, I’m 100 pages in and really enjoying it! I also think it’s important to read physical books instead of e-books. For long-term reading success, children need to see their parents reading for pleasure. And if that parent is on a device, the child can’t easily tell whether the parent is scrolling social media or deeply engaged in great literature.

  1. Begin or end by reading aloud an enjoyable book.

Ten minutes before our read-a-thon was scheduled to end, I asked the kids to put away all their books and blankets. As soon as they did, I pulled out saltwater taffy and read a great picture book. Ending this way left us feeling that high that comes from true connection.

For parents of young children: If you have pre-readers at home, remember that flipping through books and looking at pictures counts as reading! These are essential skills not only because they build interest in books, but because children learn to infer storyline through illustrations. If your littles aren’t accustomed to quiet time alone, you might try switching between reading aloud and fifteen minutes of independent reading.

I hope you find that this strategy puts a little more joy into learning!

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