I still remember sitting at my desk in my elementary classroom, glancing at the clock every few seconds, counting down the seconds to that special time of day—that absolutely glorious D.E.A.R. time, short for Drop Everything And Read. It was the time of day when we literally dropped everything we were working on to read.
Even better, it was free reading which meant we could read whatever we wanted. I always had a stack of books waiting for me inside my desk because D.E.A.R time was the best twenty minutes of the entire day.
These days, D.E.A.R. seems to have gone by the wayside, but I still feel that there’s something to learn from prioritizing free reading time.
How does that saying go—“You make time for the things that are important to you"? I think this is especially true with reading. I know I’ve been guilty of saying, “I just don’t have time to read right now.” But deep down, I know that if it’s truly important to me, I’ll make time for it. The importance of reading is something I want to impart to my kids, too.
During the school year, they have required reading from Sonlight. And while those book selections are always wonderful, my children benefit from choosing their own books to read in addition to their required reading. It gives them a sense of ownership and helps them to be invested in their reading.
You might also remember D.E.A.R. time from your childhood. And maybe you’re chomping at the bit to run through the house announcing, "It’s time to drop everything and read!" Keep reading for how to prepare for your homeschool D.E.A.R. time.
1. Free—Not Required Reading
This is the time set aside for your child to read anything they want, as long as you don’t object to the content of the book, of course. Growing up, I read all the Ramona books, several Judy Blume classics, and the entire Baby-sitter’s Club series. I admit many of these books wouldn’t make a Newberry Award winning list, but they would certainly make my award list. I still remember connecting with characters like Ramona, Kristi, and Fudge. There is something magical about choosing your very own book, and D.E.A.R. is a perfect opportunity to do just that.
2. Model, Model, Model
Yes, I’m talking to you, Mom. You need to D.E.A.R. too. I know it’s tough.
- You have three loads of laundry and a sink full of dishes waiting for you.
- That quiet time would allow you to zip around the house like a lightning bolt.
- I know how much you could get done in that twenty minutes.
But the absolute best way to spend D.E.A.R. time is for you to pull out a book of your choosing and read away.
Nothing takes the place of modeling lifelong reading habits. When children see their mother still making time to read, even with five million things waiting for her attention, it is an impression that will not quickly be forgotten.
Plus, you'll have a great excuse to whittle down that reading stack you've got on your bedside table! Enjoy! Not only are you modeling for your children, you are investing in your professional development or self-care (depending on what you choose to read).
3. Set the Atmosphere for D.E.A.R.
Sitting curled up in a chair with a blanket across your lap, a book in your hands, and a steaming cup of coffee or cider by your side creates a moment that stands still in time. Make D.E.A.R. time as enchanting as possible. Although it isn't necessary every time, when you can, play soft, classical music in the background. Provide blankets, pillows, and hot beverages. Light a candle. All these small touches appeal to the senses and help to seal a memory of what my kids call, “warm fuzzies” connected with reading.
4. Make Books Readily Available
Nothing squelches the atmosphere quite like a child who comes up to you four minutes into D.E.A.R. time to loudly complain, “I have nothing to reeeeaaaaad, Mom!”
Go to the library often, or let your kids shop in your home library a few minutes before D.E.A.R. begins. Have each child keep a stash of about 3-5 books that they’ve been wanting to read. If your child struggles to choose a book, check with your local children’s librarian for suggestions or look to Sonlight's Summer Readers.
5. Have Clear Expectations for Homeschool D.E.A.R.
As with everything else in parenting, having clear expectations is important for success. Children need to know that they will not be allowed to come ask you twenty questions during D.E.A.R. time.
Maybe you would like for them to go to the bathroom beforehand. You might want them to get their own drink. I like for my kids to get settled and stay in one spot during D. E.A.R time. So before you begin, be sure to sit down and think through some of the obstacles that might come up, and decide how you’ll want to handle those. Then, be sure to communicate your expectations to your children clearly.
6. Be Consistent
Set up a time that works well for your homeschool, and stick with it. You might even decide to do a special transition that signals the kids to drop everything and grab their books. Whatever you do, do it consistently. If you only want to D.E.A.R. once a week, try to do it on the same day each week. If you want a daily D.E.A.R. time, try to set it up at a predictable time each day, weaving it into the rhythm of your day.
7. About Younger Kids and D.E.A.R.
While I usually try to schedule D.E.A.R. time during naps, younger children can participate in this special tradition. When I have an emergent reader, I spend the first five minutes listening to them read. After that, I have them pull some familiar picture books off the shelf and ask them to find words that they know, or even make up a story to go with the pictures. Younger children will probably struggle to read for the duration of the twenty minutes, so I’ll often times let my littles lie down for nap or rest time after about ten minutes.
No matter how you decide to implement D.E.A.R. or what you decide to call it, all children need free reading time. In reality, there’s no special recipe for making this happen. Yes, these tips are great for making your free reading time memorable and smooth, but the answer for encouraging a lifelong love of reading is to simply do it! It only requires a book, a kid, and a mom who understands all the possibilities of reading.