Be the Reading Babysitter

As holiday schedules kick into high gear, so do the babysitting requests. When you get the call from a friend or a sibling with kids, nab the chance to step up as more than the pinch-hitter. You can become the Babysitter Who Reads.

Whether you’re babysitting for family or for pocket money, it’s an opportunity to show kids how terrific reading can be. You can reinforce the pleasure principle, demonstrating how even a reasonably cool grown-up enjoys a book. The kids will inevitably dub you something, just as you pegged your own babysitters back in the day: the Sitter Who Lets You Stay Up Late, the Pushover, the Sitter Who Calls Her Boyfriend. So mark your territory from the get-go as the Sitter Who Reads Out Loud.

I won’t preach about how reading to children is an essential step in making them well-educated, well-adjusted, upwardly mobile creatures with heartwarming anecdotes and cute cowlicks. For that, turn to reading advocate Jim Trelease, who ardently trumpets reading’s societal benefits. (His Read-Aloud Handbook is also great if you need tips about which books are good picks for different ages.) Instead, let’s get back to the in-the-moment reasons to read out loud with kids.

Settling down to read aloud, even for a few minutes, is a potent bond – serious but fun. When you’re chanting Dr. Seuss rhymes for the sixth time in a row, a connection takes root quickly. When riffing off a picture book with a toddler, ask “what comes next?” and odds are, you’ll get an amazing or hilarious answer. Now’s the perfect opportunity to bust out that goofy-helium voice you perfected in the third grade.

You can tailor your reading choices to echo your babysit-ees’s day and watch a book blow their little minds. If a first grader had a rough day, for instance, nothing beats a rendition of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair….” We’ve all been there. It’s encouraging for kids to hear you caught up in the story. There’s no agenda for you – no homework, no phonics – other than enjoying yourselves.

If you’re babysitting an older child regularly, you can dig into longer chapter books together. Choose wisely, since there are some emotional depth charges in there; who can get through Where the Red Fern Grows without crying? On the other hand, sharing a teary moment over the death of Dumbledore can bring you together, maybe spark a serious discussion or two. Not to mention, any outright sobs are blackmail material if the kid turns into a mouthy teenager.

With experiences like that, you can help nudge the child toward being an enthusiastic reader. And you can feel a tad heroic when you head out the door.

How about you all – have you had any success reading to kids you babysit? Or do you remember any special reading babysitters?