April 2014, readathon

Warm Up: Readathon Survival Guide for Parents

Saturday – a day perfect for sleeping in, enjoying an extra cup of coffee with your newspaper or – of course — reading for 24-hours straight in a blissful cocoon of quiet and solitude.  Unless you’re a parent, then Saturdays mean birthday parties, peanut butter sandwiches, and watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates. If you’re a parent, you want to readathon, but don’t know how to manage it this post is for you.

 Qualifications and a Disclaimer

I’ve participated in Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon and other readathons for years.  My kids are currently age 14 (Hope), 3 (Atticus), and 13 months (Persy Jane) and each age and situation presents a different set of challenges. I’ve done readathon as a single-mom to a grade school child, as a mom nursing a colicky baby with a dairy intolerance, as a hugely pregnant lady who felt the need to nap every 30 minutes, and as a mom home with three sick kids while dad was at work. I have managed to participate, but it has taken some trial and error and more than a few tears for me to learn that the goal with readathon while parenting is to accept, adapt, and enjoy.

A quick disclaimer: I am incredibly aware that childless folks are busy on the weekends. Some of my  kid-free friends do an immense amount of work, volunteering, caring for parents or animals, etc…. This isn’t one of those “you don’t have kids so you don’t understand the word busy.” My goal is to help parents who feel guilt or stress trying to balance caring for children and pursuing an entire day devoted to reading. Enough with the housekeeping, time to discuss readathon!


This may be obnoxious to even suggest, but if you can get babysitting in any capacity for any part of the day do so. This may seem like a “duh” type statement, but I know as a mom with my kids in daycare all week I can guilt myself into thinking I’m an awful mom if they spend Saturday away from me. Visit to Grandma’s anyone? The kids don’t need to be gone long and even a few hours can make all the difference. Prioritize your reading for the day and make sure you don’t succumb to cleaning the house or paying bills while the kids are gone; just read! Maybe a baby sitter isn’t feasible (there were many years I had no money and no help with childcare), if so don’t underestimate the power of a babysitting exchange. Perhaps a neighbor or friend could keep the kids for a few hours and next weekend you could return the favor and take care of his/her kiddos. It takes a village, people (comma was real important in that sentence).

The rest of this post is going on the assumption that you have no help and your kiddos all day long, because that is truly the stressful part. Reading Dostoevsky while handling a tot meltdown, breastfeeding a teething baby, and checking homework is a daunting feat and not for the faint of heart.

On Reading

What to Read: Speaking of Dostoevsky, go ahead and shelve him. I adore large, convoluted Victorian novels, but I’ve learned that trying to read giant tomes with kids underfoot ends in frustration. Readathon is a great time to catch-up on novellas, short stories, YA and juvenile works, graphic novels, magazines, and works of fiction that are engaging and easy to put down at a moment’s notice. Audiobooks are also perfect for readathon especially if you have to do responsible adult things like folding laundry, cooking dinner, or exercising. Format is also important, I love a print novel, but my Kindle and my Kindle reading app on my phone has rescued my reading. Long afternoon nursing session? No problem! I’ll just read Neil Gaiman on my phone. Stuck at Target with a teenager trying on bikinis? Kindle, let’s get married because I just got knee deep in some delightful, gossipy Barbara Pym novel and I think I love you. Earlier this year I read most of Middlemarch on my Kindle while the kids had a terrible, 8-day long puking virus. WAY easier to toss it to the side or hold it away while a kid pukes everywhere. I also didn’t have to fool with bookmarks or crumpled pages. God bless technology.

Preparing for the Day

Prepping for readathon is almost as exciting as readthon itself! I love gathering my stack of books and ensuring there is adequate coffee in the house. As a parent this prep time is essential. Take the extra time to whip up some muffins the night before for an easy breakfast, plan and assemble meals and snacks for the day, take care of any tasks that could slow you down whether it is making sure you’re packed for some time at the park, washing up uniforms/clothes for Saturday activities, or doing a quick sweep through the house so the world won’t fall apart if chores are ignored for the day. I highly recommend take out for dinner. Sure you could prep dinner beforehand, but keep in mind you want to have a minimal amount of dirty dishes at the end of the day!

Non-Reading Participation

Sometimes reading just isn’t possible or maybe it isn’t possible to do as much as you like. There are many other ways to participate!

  • Cheerleading! Sign-up to cheerlead and visit other blogs or give shout-outs and encouragement on Twitter. Smart phones make this a breeze.
  • Mini-challenges! I love the creativity hosts use when creating challenges. They also tend to get you up and moving. Spine poetry, surveys, etc… only take a few minutes, but allows you interaction with your fellow booklethes.
  • Book-chores: I use readthon time to reorganize book shelves or cull books. The little ones like helping, it gets things tidied and I can do it amid chaos (i.e. children).
  • Field trips! Go to the library, the bookstore, or even the thrift store.  See what you can find. Or maybe drop off those book donations sliding around in the back of your van (or is it just me?).
  • Promote: Retweet, reblog, and holla at the readathoners. Promoting the event increasing traffic for readathon which increases literacy. So you are basically doing volunteer work for literacy on your couch. Kinda.

Involve your Kids

Think about how you define readathon. If it is just reading for 24-hours straight then moms and dads are screwed. I think of readathon as a 24-hour celebration of reading. I may not be reading very many books, but if I am encouraging my kids to read and engaging with them on Readathon day then I am certainly celebrating the joys of reading.  Here are just a few ways to “readathon” with your kids:

  • Read to them!
  • Audio books
  • Book-based movies
  • Legos (Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings anyone)
  • Food! Maybe a Very Hungry Caterpillar lunch is in order.
  • Crafts: bookmarks are easy to make and are perfect gifts
  • Act out favorite scenes from a book (Atticus loves it when we have a wild rumpus)
  • Play library or book store
  • Write and illustrate your own stories
  • Visit a library
  • Organize your bookshelves
  • Purchase books for a charity

I’m sure Pinterest has a wealth of literacy-related activities for kids. Take a quick look and see what you can come up with for your kids. They just might remember readathon with the excitement of a holiday.

Mix it Up

This year my husband is taking over for most of the day so I can read, but I know I won’t be reading for 24-hours straight. I’m a big fan of making the day a mixture of me reading alone, working on bookish projects with the kids around, and celebrating reading with then entire family. Please don’t get caught up in minutes, hours, page numbers, or the dwindling of your TBR pile. Combine the joy you gain from reading with the love of your kids and you are sure to have an amazing readathon.



Thanks SO much to Amanda from Fig and Thistle for this most excellent survival guide!

16 thoughts on “Warm Up: Readathon Survival Guide for Parents”

  1. Love this post, even though I’m not a parent. I tell people about the readathon in real life, and most respond by saying they have too much to do (like parenting) to read all day, but the readathon is just about reading as much as you can! You don’t need to be power reading the whole time.

  2. Great suggestions. I also find taking a walk to be therapeutic and taking your audio book with you is just bonus.
    My challenge is food and snack prep. Must do better.

  3. I love this post so much because holy crap I don’t know how you do it, but even just squeezing in a little bit of reading/cheering/joining in on the community is what it’s about.

    And thank you for the disclaimer. Sometimes I feel guilty about not having kids and being able to participate in stuff like this rather freely. But I do have to shift work I would have been doing on my weekend off, time with my husband who I don’t see much during the week and other priorities in order to do it.

  4. Yes! This is the post! My kids know the deal when “readathon day” comes around. But a lot of parents feel guilty about spending the day relaxing and reading. Thanks for the great post. I hope many parents who are readathoning read it.

  5. Fantastic post Amanda! I don’t have kids, but I love the way you incorporate a celebration of reading into your readathon plan!

  6. Once again, you have nailed it, Amanda! I love everything about this post, most especially, “Please don’t get caught up in minutes, hours, page numbers, or the dwindling of your TBR pile. Combine the joy you gain from reading with the love of your kids and you are sure to have an amazing readathon.” – because that’s where I would get caught up — obsessing about it. I have no excuse, though, because my kids are 18, 16, 14, and 13. They are fully capable of giving me some “mommy time.” (And, they love to read, which is an added bonus.) My biggest issue is making sure there is plenty of readily available food in the house and then not feeling guilty for letting them cook it. 🙂 I’m not officially signed up, but I’m going to be doing my best to participate in the Readathon. Happy Reading!

  7. I’m one of the singles with no kids participants (well unless you count the furry children, who do like their mommy time too) but I do have to plan ahead because the past few times I did this, I had something else occurring the same day. This April is the first one I didn’t have another big event going on. So I plan out food ahead of time (I stick to quick and easy finger foods or frozen meals to save time though this year I may make chili to cover both lunch and dinner. :-), take care of the must-do chores that typically get done on Saturdays ahead of time. For me the readathon is about reading as much as I can for as long as I can because I don’t have to feel guilty about blowing off what I should be doing to read.

  8. Its hard to do the readathon without telling people. When I’m home from college it is no problem because I usually spend most of the day reading anyways, but when I’m at college for the weekend I usually spend saturdays pretty busy with my friend. I told her I didn’t want to do anything this weekend. I’m hoping that will be enough so I can spend a majority of the day reading. I don’t share my blogging life with my friends. That adds an extra challenge on readathon day. I’m still hoping to fit it in more than usual on a saturday.

  9. Thanks a lot Amanda for this post because, even if I’m childless, I was very hesitant to sign up before reading it. It will be my first Read-a-thon and even if I do not have children, I’ve got some obligations that will prevent me from reading at some moments during the Read-a-thon and I was not sure it would be a good idea to participate. Your post helps me to understand that each person has its own goals depending on multiple factors and that it was not ‘bad’ if I was not able to devote all my time to reading.
    Thanks again!

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