On Reading: The Power of 20 Minutes

When I was teaching third grade, I stressed the 20 minutes of reading daily to all my students and their parents. I believed it and preached it. If parents would just read to their child for 20 minutes, they would see improvement in their child’s reading. I didn’t even care who was reading – the child alone, parent to child, child to parent, child to sibling, it didn’t matter as long as there was reading going on for 20 minutes! My website had it flashing across the top and I mentioned the 20 minute rule every single time I met with parents. I wanted every parent to follow the rule – it’s something that is so simple and makes such a difference!

Then my baby was born. In my teacher education courses, I learned that the 20 minute rule applied to every child, every age. But as my new mom’s sleep-deprived eyes looked at my little girl, I wondered if I really needed to read to her. She’s a newborn. She barely opens her eyes, even when she’s eating. And as much as I love Goodnight Moon, honestly I was getting a little tired of it (it was the only board book we owned at the time). And I admit, I didn’t read to her every day those first few weeks. “When she’s older, I’ll read to her”, I reasoned. But the teacher in me couldn’t be silenced. “Every child, every age.” And if I didn’t start now, when would I start? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year?

So I did it. I read to her everyday. (I bought a few more books for my own sanity). I recited those picture books about colors, shapes, and animals until I could say them in my sleep (which I probably did on a few occasions before she started sleeping through the night). I gently ran her little hands over the bumpy, smooth, furry, and rough textures in the books and told her what she was feeling. She didn’t seem to notice or care. When her eyes were open, she wasn’t looking anywhere near the book. But I had to do it – my inner-teacher wouldn’t let me stop – 20 minutes everyday.

And now, one year later, I look at my little angel. She is a toddler, busy walking, talking and exploring all the fun to be had in every nook and cranny of our home. The only time I can get her to sit still is when I pull out a book. She sits quietly in my lap reaching for the touch and feel spots, turning the pages, blabbing along with me as I point to the shapes, colors, and animals I started reading to her so long ago.

I don’t know when she first started paying attention. When she learned to turn the pages. When she first associated my words with the pictures in the books. When she first ran her own fingers over the bumpy part of the textured page. But I do know that I am glad I read to that little newborn, because somewhere along the way she learned to love books.

Lisa left full time teaching for full time mommy-ing. She loves this new job, but will always be a teacher at heart and blogs about it at Teach at Home.


  1. Lauren says

    I am a former third grade teacher as well, and it is so important to practice what you preach! Although there are times when I think I am to tired to read to my kids, I never regret a minute of it. Thanks for the great reminder!

  2. Graywolfie says

    Wow..thanks for sharing..I read to my girl quite a lot..but never realize it’ll be so important for her..I took it more like a mother & daughter bonding time..hmmm..now I’ll be even more inspired to read to her..

  3. says

    I love to read to my daughter and she even loves to “read” herself. I say “read” that way because she is 19 months. She sits with the books on her lap, flips pages and talks about them. She even plays with her books about as often as she plays with toys. I think it’s great.

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