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Every time I see the suggestion that parents “read to your children every day for 30 minutes,” I get mad.

It’s not that I don’t think it’s important to read to children every day. It’s that I don’t feel it’s a realistic expectation for most parents.

I speak a bit from experience. I had three children under the age of two. Every week, my husband left town early Monday morning and didn’t return until Thursday night. We had just moved and I didn’t know anyone in my new city. 

My situation wasn’t as challenging as what many families face, for sure. But for me, reading to my children every day proved impossible. I knew reading to them every day was important, and I had access to books, but with alone at home, with two six-month-old babies and a two-year-old, sometimes it was all I could do to keep them safe. 

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s felt this way. I’m guessing there’s a whole slew of parents and caregivers out there who don’t read to their children every day, not because they don’t want to. But because they can’t possibly find the time. Sometimes, there’s work to do. Sometimes, you just need to get the kids to sleep. Sometimes, you’re too tired yourself. 

I’m also guessing that many of the folks who say “read to your children every day for 30 minutes,” don’t do it either.

So, as educators, why do we ask such unrealistic goals of our parents? Why do we ask them to do something we aren’t doing ourselves, and then judge them when they don’t? 

Isn’t this sort of thing setting parents up for failure? Many of them already have feelings of doubt and insecurity in their abilities to guide their children through school. Should we really be in the business of piling on? If parents feel they can’t possibly reach the reading goal, what will their logical reactions be? Think about it, they’ll probably give up or not even try. And then what? Disengage from school, from us? 

We don’t want that.  

What if instead of saying things like, “read to your children every day for 30 minutes,” we worked with our families individually to help them set their own reading goals? For example, some parents might say, “I’m going to try to read two days a week,” or “I can read one book.” Maybe some parents might say, “No time to read books, but I can commit to helping my child develop reading skills by pointing out words during the day.”

If we work with parents to set more manageable goals and make them active participants in that process, they’ll have a sense of ownership and choice. This is more respectful of who they are and whatever challenge they face in their lives. 

We differentiate our instruction for kids, isn’t it time we differentiated our engagement for parents, so that we can meet them where they are, instead of where we want them to be? 

In the end, children still benefit. They’ll be more likely to get in some reading time. They’ll also have happier, more relaxed and confident parents. And that’s a good thing for teachers too.

Interested in learning more about differentiated family engagement? Want to give your staff access to these same skills and ideas? Give me a call or visit my website and sign-up for a free consultation. I’d love the opportunity to share what I’ve learned.

Patricia Weinzapfel

Author, Educator, Journalist & K12 Communications Expert

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