When many people think of habits they tend to think of them as being bad. I suppose because bad habits, like smoking, drinking too much or biting your nails stand out. However, habits can also be neutral, having neither a negative or positive impact upon our lives; or they can be positive, in that they add to our lives in a meaningful and enriching way. However, good or bad, at the end of the day, we tend to go to habits automatically. Habits are not something we even need to think about. Often they can be comforting, adding predictability to our lives.
I learned early in my teaching career that human beings, students in my case, love routine. It became evident that incorporating positive habits in the classroom could be very useful. Of course, as educators we know this well. We know that using the same piece of music in the classroom might be used to trigger a response in students to ‘clean up’. We also know that simple ‘morning routines’, listed on a poster with appropriate visual cues, can assist even the most disorganised of students get ready for the day. As a mother I extended this wisdom to many aspects of family life. In the Welden household we have a morning routine, an after school routine and an evening routine. Perhaps it seems a little militant but it certainly reduces chaos and teaches my children the importance of ‘putting first things first’ (for more on this check out Stephen Covey’s awesome books). It is important to remember when establishing any routine it will feel unnatural to begin with, however persistence will yield a habit that becomes as natural as breathing.
Part of the night time routine with my children has always been reading. It is the last thing we do before lights out. Since they were babies we have followed a simple structure for this. Dinner, bath, book and bed. Obviously when the children were very young we shared a story with them. As they began to read themselves they would quite happily tuck themselves into bed at 7pm with a book and read on their own. Even our three year old (who is only just learning her letters) likes to spend some quiet time on her own ‘pretending’ to read to herself. It has become such an ingrained habit that our older kids (now 11 and 9 respectively) tell me that they need a book to wind before they can even consider sleep. The biggest problem we have is getting then to turn out the lights (they will happily read until midnight if we let them).
Of course you don’t have to use bedtime as your cue. Each family is different and whatever fits into your family schedule is fine. The important thing to remember is to do it religiously on a daily basis (until it becomes a habit) and start with a short period, increasing the time gradually as you go. Of course, while you need to be rigid with it to begin with, once reading has been established as a habit you can usually back off as a parent and nurture your child’s reading in other ways. Stay tuned for more ideas for doing this in future posts.