How To Host A Family Reading Marathon

Last week, our kids were on “spring break,” and they didn’t need to check in to virtual school. So we set aside one day for a reading marathon. We wanted to do something that felt different — like a vacation — even though during this official school break our daily life was pretty much unchanged,

In the past we’ve tried to hold Family Reading Marathons somewhere out of town, because we’ve found there are too many interruptions and distractions at home. But not during quarantine! There are no surprise visitors or last minute plans these days.

This was our Family Reading Marathon schedule:

10:00 to 11:00 — Personal Reading.
Ben Blair read The Stranger (in French) and The Diamond Age.
I read La Belle Sauvage, Book One.
Oscar read The Da Vinci Code.
Betty read Matilda (in French) and Emma.
Flora June read The Series of Unfortunate Events, Book One.

11:00 to 12:00 — Harry Potter.
We’re been reading aloud through the whole series as a family, and we’re currently on Prisoner of Azkaban.

This is how we do it: We project the Kindle version onto the TV screen so everyone can see it (Betty prefers the illustrated copy, so she uses that.) Then we split up the reading assignments. One person reads the narrator, one person reads Harry, one person reads Ron & Hermione, one person reads all adults, and one person reads all kids (except Harry, Ron, & Hermione).

Sometimes we have to make adjustments — like if it’s a chapter that has two adults with lots of dialogue, but no kids beyond the main three. Obviously, we want everyone to get a chance to read.

We’ve found that doing it this way keeps everyone engaged because they have to follow along so they don’t miss their parts. And the kids love trying different accents for different characters.

12:00 to 2:00 — More Personal Reading.
We all stayed with the same books from before, but of course, anyone is welcome to switch things up if they are in the mood for another title.

2:00 to 3:00 — Group Reading — One in French and One in English.
We read Memoire d’un Ane and We Should All Be Feminists. Like with Harry Potter, these were read aloud, with everyone taking turns.

3:00 to 5:00 — Last Session of Personal Reading.
The Reading Marathon ended at 5:00, but really, everyone was welcome to keep reading if they preferred.

Before the marathon began, we prepped snacks to keep on the coffee table. We didn’t break for lunch, and instead, snacked our way through the day. We made sure to get snack requests from the kids.

Ben and I also did as much work-at-home-work as we could ahead of time, so that we could take that time off. Though we did end up working from 7:00 to Midnight (which is fairly typical for us with the time change).

If you can make something like this work for your family, I highly recommend it. The day was SO SATISFYING. Everyone had a relaxed and happy time, we were all in the same room hanging out. Sometimes we would interrupt the reading to discuss something from one of our books, or share a memory. It was stress-free and a lovely distraction from our usual schedules. It ended up feeling like an ideal low-cost, easy prep, sheltering-at-home activity.

Have you ever tried something like this? Any insights or adaptations that worked for your family? Would your kids be into this idea? Or your spouse/partner? And what are you reading during quarantine? I’d love to hear.

13 thoughts on “How To Host A Family Reading Marathon”

  1. You are the best at making special occasions from ordinary experiences. This is a great idea that I would love to implement once all my kids have learned to read.

  2. I’m fascinated by this idea! What motivated you to schedule a reading marathon? Do you have reluctant readers in your family? Difficulty setting aside time to read? We are a family of readers, and are often reading independently together, reading aloud to our 11 year old or listening to an audiobook on weekends. I guess we have unplanned reading marathons all the time! Haha! We get many of our books at the library or use their ebook app. Currently, my daughter is reading Pax, I’m reading The World that We Knew and I think my husband is reading Exaltation. We have all been reading more the past few weeks. For me, it’s great self care!

  3. This sounds so lovely. I’m so jealous/impressed that it works for your family. My family would rebel, I’m a constant reader and my husband and 2 kids are reluctant readers. I think my 13-yo daughter hates reading just to spite me. Book reports are full of tears and frustration. Sigh. Meanwhile, I daydream constantly about a quiet reading nook with windows and a chaise lounge. One day.

    1. I love the idea. I have a hard time sticking to a book since I feel I’m always interrupted (my kids are 7 and 4 and have a hard time playing on their own). But as soon as they will read on their own (and hopefully love it) it’s something we will do.

  4. Curious what app you used to project the kindle version onto your TV. Love this idea. We’ve attempted a Book Flood for Christmas Eve the last two years (all four of us purchase a new book and hold off on reading it until Christmas Eve, we all read throughout the night, eating chocolate and enjoying the fireplace glow). but I always end up working late so it hasn’t worked out quite perfectly yet (for me anyway!). This might be a better plan. Here’s some info regarding Iceland’s Book Flood if you haven’t heard about it: https://www.npr.org/2012/12/25/167537939/literary-iceland-revels-in-its-annual-christmas-book-flood

  5. I”m 72, live alone in San Francisco. My 42 year old daughter lives across the country. She was never much of a reader, but is now, and is writing a book. I LOVE this idea, and wonder if you might need a 72 year old Jewish Buddhist feminist retired RN, blogwriter to be a grandmother for you (having no grandchildren of my own). I would be happy to move to France. Really, I would. Right now I’m just finishing up Glennon Doyle’s “Untamed”, which is amazing. I’m about to start Sue Monk Kidd’s latest book, “The Book of Longings” and join her May book club on her website to participate in the conversation there. Thanks, Gabrielle for always being an inspiration. I was just kidding about joining you in France. Sort of. :-) Gayle

  6. Years ago you wrote about a reading vacation that I have been wanting to recreate since. I used to be a voracious reader but in recent years it seems that work takes too much of my day and then all I want to do with my free time is nap. Dedicated time for reading with the family elevates the joy and privilege of savoring the written word. Thank you for sharing these precious ideas and memory-making.

  7. I love reading but I don’t think this would work for me. I wouldn’t want to break off from a good book to read Harry Potter with my family! Also I am not sure I would actually want to read that much in one day. I am curious whether you have tried any other formats? We are currently trying to all read together (separate books but we are together) for an hour after lunch and that is a struggle to get everyone to participate.

  8. Donna Johnson

    To make the ice cream cones work for me, I started the seeds in peat pots and then planted the peat pot when the seedlings started. It turned out to be a cute gift that didn’t go mushy.

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