In part three of my interview with Sarah Mackenzie, author of The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids, she shares ideas on starting conversations about books, limiting screen time, allowing audiobooks, and pursuing your passions while raising your kids.
Conversations about reading
Lynne: What are some good ways to start conversations about books with our kids?
Sarah Mackenzie: I didn’t realize at the beginning how important the conversations we had about books could be. I really think they are equally as important as reading the books themselves, especially as our kids get older into the teen years, so we should probably be spending as much time talking with our kids about reading together as we are actually reading the book.
And the barrier at least for me and for a lot of the parents I know is feeling like I don’t know enough about literary analysis . . . . In chapter 11 there are ten open-ended questions, and what I love about these is there are no right answers to them. And you can ask the questions about a picture book or you can ask kids about Anna Kareneina or War and Peace . . . .
Open up this conversation and instead of . . . . questions that are just being asked of the child to make sure that they read it, they realize over time if you have these open ended conversations that you’re just interested in knowing what they think about it, and that can open the way to some really wonderful conversations about not just the book and the ideas in the book but also our lives and how those ideas translate into our lives.
Creating screen-free time
Lynne: How do we help our kids to enjoy reading instead of a screen?
Sarah Mackenzie: I think this is one of those really, really relevant questions for all of us . . . . I feel like what we have to do in order to help our kids choose books sometimes over screens is take the screens away. Not completely, but there need to be pockets of time in the day when a screen of any kind, whether that be a phone to text your best friend or a video game or tv show, the screen is not an option.
Dr. Daniel Williams came to the podcast and talked about how if he was to put out a bowl of watermelon after dinner, his kids would enjoy it, they would all probably eat some and think it as a sweet treat. But if he was to put out a bowl of watermelon and a bowl of candy, his kids would choose the candy. And the watermelon would lose its appeal because the candy would be more appealing to them. We can think of our kids’ screens as the candy and watermelon is the book. They will enjoy and delight in a book. But we do them a favor by removing the candy bowl from the table every once in a while so that they can enjoy it.
In my house, we do things like an hour before bedtime all screens are off. The kids can either go to bed or they can stay up for another hour if they’re reading . . . .
Lynne: Do you ever think there’s a time to limit the use of audiobooks? For a child who can read but really likes to listen to the audiobook?
Sarah Mackenzie: You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I don’t think we need to worry about limiting that. I just talked to Andrew Pudewa from the Institute of Excellence in Writing as well. There’s been some interesting research that shows that when it comes to reading, let’s just say like a history book, whether you’re reading the printed page into your eyes or you’re listening to it with your ear, your brain is actually getting the same information and doing all the same work except for the actual decoding of the words from the page . . . .
Now if you’re trying to help your child build the skill of decoding and becoming a better actual reader, which is a good thing to do as well, then there’s a benefit from having them read off the page . . . .
The other thing that’s really helpful when they listen and doesn’t happen when they read from the page, they don’t get to skip words. When we’re reading a book, we skip connectors like “a, but, and, the,” . . . . when they hear it through their ear, they get all of it in order, so there is a definite benefit to having them hear the grammatically correct and sophisticated language through their ear. I don’t think I’d worry about overuse of audiobooks.
Pursuing your passions
Lynne: I have two last questions. One is, you’re busy with homeschooling six kids, you have a business, so do you have advice for moms about pursuing your own interests even when you’re in the trenches of motherhood?
Sarah Mackenzie: This is one of the things that’s really close to my heart, because of course, it’s part of my every day. It’s been a struggle to figure out what works for your family . . . . I would encourage moms who are trying to build a business or pursue a passion of some kind while they’re in the trenches of really hands-on knee-deep parenting like we are when our kids are home, [that] what has helped me is separating out this time.
When I was trying to work on my business or write or do my own thing at the same time I was parenting, for example, if I was trying to write an article while watching my kids play in the backyard, I would find that I would do neither very well . . . .
So way back when my twins were tiny, I’d get up really early in the morning or stay up late at night, I’d make an intentional tradeoff. You know what, writing is important enough to me that I’m willing to get a little behind on laundry or maybe not have as clean of a house or maybe not watch tv shows or not be on Facebook as much in order to do this thing. And sort of making that intentional tradeoff is really necessary because otherwise as a mother your tradeoffs are all made for you unless you decide what’s going to be traded.
. . . . Setting aside a little time for that passion or work, it does two things. It helps you focus on the work without the guilt that we all carry when we’re trying to work with our kids also talking at the same time, but it also demonstrates to our kids there’s something really valuable to us . . . .
We want our kids to be lifelong learners, to be passionate, to constantly be learning and growing, yet we get nervous about our kids seeing us pursuing something that’s not about them, when actually what it shows them is this what lifelong learning looks like, this is what it looks like to pursue passions and keep learning and growing and making beautiful things for the world, and we can do that in tandem in growing the family we care so much about . . . .
It also gives us something to look forward to in those days that a lot of us actually dread, which is when the house is empty . . . . we also want to give ourselves some work and important contribution to the world after our kids are out making their own . . . . I think keeping those passions alive will probably help us there.
The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids
Lynne: My last question is what do you most want parents to take away from The Read-Aloud Family?
Sarah Mackenzie: I’m really glad you asked that. I don’t think anyone’s asked me that yet . . . . When we get right down to the core of what we want as parents, we want good relationships with our kids . . . . if we really think deep down what do I want twenty years from now when I look back on my parenting life, what am I going to wish I had done, I would bet that most of us would wish we had connected with our kids and made that the most important thing about parenting, even more than teaching our kids to get their chores done or their homework done on time, get out of bed the first time we call them . . . .
And so I really hope The Read-Aloud Family inspires families and parents to connect in really meaningful and lasting ways with their kids. And books just happen to be a really simple, effective way to do just that.
Thank you again to Sarah Mackenzie for making the time to talk with us! To learn more about Sarah, her books, or the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, you can visit her website at https://readaloudrevival.com/