by Jessica Faith Carter, Ph.D. and Justin D. Carter
This year, millions of parents and children are spending more time together due to the pandemic. With school closures, online learning, and remote working, parents and caregivers have found themselves taking on roles as teachers, and many have become more involved in their children’s schoolwork. With parents serving as at-home co-teachers, they are reading more with their children and engaging in their learning in ways unlike ever before. Now that the worst of the pandemic is hopefully behind us, children will soon be back in schools, and parents may no longer feel the need to be teachers in addition to everything else they are to their children. In the interview below, Justin Carter, a first responder and father of two small children, shares why he will continue to read and learn with his children for as long as they will let him.
JFC: How often do you read to your children?
JDC: I read to my children every night before bed, but this wasn’t something I was always able to do. Due to the nature of my job as a police officer, there were instances where my schedule didn’t give me much time at home with my children, so I would try to read to them on my days off. I’m glad to read to my children each day now, and I hope to be able to do so for the next few years while they are still young.
JFC: What is your nightly reading routine like? How do you balance storytime with two children of different ages?
JDC: I have a 2-year-old son and a 6-year- old daughter, so the routines can look different depending on the night and their moods. My son hasn’t fully grasped the concept of storytime yet; however, I still read short character books to him before I put him down for bed. With my daughter, I have more of a routine because we have been reading together for years. She has come to expect her nightly story, but she’s also very involved in the process. She recently started reading independently, so now she picks out the books she wants to read to me. I usually sit on the side of her bed and listen to her read. She’s learning new words every day, so I help her through the stories. I also like to throw in animated voices and expressions to make the stories come alive!
JFC: It sounds like you try to make storytime fun! How do your children respond when you read to them?
JDC: When I read to my children together, my son will sit and listen for a couple of minutes. He tries to model what his big sister does, but eventually, his toddler instincts take over, and he wants to go off and play. I get a big laugh seeing my daughter, who is fully engaged in the story, try to reason with her brother to listen to the story. I know he’ll come around eventually. My daughter is at that age where she wants to learn and know everything, so she has become more focused when I read to her. When she was younger, she was primarily interested in the pictures, but now she’s excited to read new words, phrases, and sentences independently. I’ve been reading to her since she was a baby, so it’s amazing to see the changes in how she responds to books.
JFC: I imagine you work some very long days and nights. Why do you make the time to read to your children each day?
JDC: I mostly just wanted to expose my children to the English language to aid in their development. Even before the pandemic, I was a big believer in not depending on schools to teach my children everything they need to know. Even the best teachers can only do so much for individual students, so I think it is important to continue the learning at home. As I have spent more time reading with my children lately, I also see just how much children enjoy spending time and interacting with their parents. The time I spend reading with my son and daughter takes us away from the television, computers, and other distractions. Instead, I can read a story that encourages my children to use their imaginations to have fun! This is especially true for my daughter, who is one of the most inquisitive people I know. When we’re reading together, she wants to know everything that’s not stated in the story and will ask 50 questions to make things make sense in her 6-year-old mind. I read to her because I want to encourage her love of learning. Reading to my son is also very important because I know the stigmas that exist for black boys - they hate to read, underperform academically, and don’t like to learn. I want my son to know that none of those things have to be true about him, so I want to make sure I’m setting an example.
JFC: What do you think your children get out of the time you spend reading with them? What do you get?
JDC: It has to be quality time. I’m usually at work during most of my children’s awake hours, so the time we have together between when I get home and when they go to bed is very valuable. My son and daughter just want to have time with me. Since my daughter is a little older, she is starting to connect storytime with learning. She gets excited to read and learn new words and sentences. Quality time is also the biggest thing for me. Given my line of work, there is no guarantee that I’ll make it home each day. The time I have with my family means so much to me. I also take pride in knowing that the time I spend reading with my children will help them get ahead in school.
JFC: Since you’ve been reading to your children for over six years now, I’m sure you’ve made some amazing memories. What’s your favorite memory of reading with your children so far?
JDC: It’s definitely the first time my daughter read a book to me! That was an emotional night. I knew she had been practicing her reading in school, but I was completely caught off guard when she picked out a Fancy Nancy book at bedtime and told me she would be reading to me. She had trouble with a few words, but I was right there to help her get through them. At that moment, I thought about all the time I’d spent reading to her and how it paid off. Now, she reads to me most nights. And I don’t care how long it takes for her to finish her story; I’m just so glad that she enjoys reading.
JFC: What an amazing memory, and I know you are so proud of your daughter! That experience definitely shows the value of making time to read with your children. Why do you think it is important for fathers to read to their children?
JDC: As a father, I want to teach my children things they may not be exposed to at school. When I have storytime with my children, I put on my “teaching hat” and use what I read to teach my children lessons about life. Given the ever-changing world we live in, it’s important for me as a father to make sure my children develop the knowledge and skills to be critical thinkers and problem solvers to become leaders in the future.
JFC: I know you’re a busy father with lots of responsibilities. What pieces of advice can you share with fathers who want to spend more time reading with their children?
JDC: It definitely takes work and some sacrifice to make the time to read to my children, but it is worth it. My biggest piece of advice to fathers is to find the time to read, even if it’s just a few minutes. Having a predictable schedule and nightly routine helped me; however, for fathers who may not have that luxury, read when you can. You may find that the joy you get from that short time is something you and your children want more of and start to prioritize things differently to make more time to do it. I have learned not to take time for granted, and I really enjoy how reading with my children has allowed me to create so many meaningful moments with my children while cultivating their love of literacy. I’ll be reading with my children for as long as they’ll let me!