Reading Bedtime Stories without it Taking Over Your Evening

Reading stories at bedtime is a great part of a bedtime routine. Find out how to incorporate it and still get kids to bed on time.

Mother and son reading bedtime story

Storytime has got to be one of the sweetest times of day. Child and parent snuggle up together to read stories before bedtime.

If you are not careful, this treasured part of your routine can soon take over your evening and grow into a monster you aren’t quite sure how to tame.

On Becoming Toddlerwise suggests you do “…your storytime out on the couch or in your favorite easy chair and not in bed” (page 55).

The reason for this suggestion is that the child then has somewhere to go–off to bed. The authors say if you do storytime in bed, you might never finish because there is nowhere to go.

Now, “off to bed” is not the only way to accomplish this “how.”

Pay attention to the Why of this suggestion.

The why here is to ensure you do not have bedtime significantly delayed because you are just laying in bed reading story after story.

We actually started out this way with Brayden. We would lay in his twin bed with him and read him an unspecified number of books.

Let me tell you, Ezzo and Bucknam were right!

Sometimes storytime would last well over an hour–for a 21 month old.

Now, an hour long storytime isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The bad thing was bedtime getting pushed back significantly because an hour was not planned on. 

We started reading stories on the couch, then going up to bed, saying prayers, singing songs, hugs and kisses, then good night. It was much easier to get out of the room. 

However, we do currently read to McKenna in her room. We read in a glider. We also read alternately to the children in Brayden’s bed currently (one night Brayden reads in there, the next Kaitlyn, etc.).

Our version of “off to bed” is to limit the number of stories they get to read. The child gets to pick X number of books to read before bed.

This, to me, is the ultimate solution to avoiding bedtime being delayed. The number of books we allow to be chosen depends on the child and the night. It is typically about three books.

However, Brayden often is two because he is reading chapter books…and for some of his chapter books, reading just one chapter takes about 45 minutes. When reading chapter books, you can also set a number of chapters to read.

The trick for you is to estimate about how long it takes to read the books your child is interested in, decide how long you read (shoot for at least 20-30 minutes!), and then decide how many books your child can choose.

We also read stories separately with each child. For that reason, utilizing bedrooms makes a lot of sense.

In the Read Aloud Handbook, Trelease recommends reading to each child individually so that books can be read according to that child’s age and interest level. So McKenna reads in her room, then one reads in the family room, and one reads in Brayden’s room. 

Bedtime Stories Breakdown

Here is a breakdown of our storytime part of bedtime routine. I like to look at scannable lists, so I like to provide you with them. Brayden is 6, Kaitlyn is 4, and McKenna is 2.

  1. While Brayden and Kaitlyn get ready for bed and clean their rooms for the night, my husband reads stories to McKenna. He reads with her nearly every night. It is a special bonding time for them. I read to McKenna during the day, so she does get to read with me, also.
  2. We read scriptures as a family in the family room. We read from a children’s picture book scripture. We then read one page from the actual scriptures. We also talk about what we read. We then have family prayer and McKenna goes to bed.
  3. My husband and I take turns reading to Brayden and Kaitlyn. One of us sits in the family room and one in Brayden’s room. For example, I will read to Brayden one night in the family room, then Kaitlyn the next night in the family room, then Brayden, etc. We take turns by week for who gets to sit where. We both prefer the family room 🙂 The child choose 2-3 books to read. 
  4. Once books are read, we say good night to the parent we didn’t read with. The child then goes to bed and says his/her prayers. Then the parent he/she read with sings a lullaby, tucks him/her in, gives kisses, and leaves the room. 

That was more than just storytime, but it shows the flow. That should give you an idea of how we juggle reading to three children separately and how we keep the length of storytime relatively consistent.


Consistency is key to knowing how long you need for your entire routine so you know what time to start the routine to get to bed on time. This way, storytime can remain a treasure rather than a monster.

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13 thoughts on “Reading Bedtime Stories without it Taking Over Your Evening”

  1. I think as soon as you can get them to sit with you for a few minutes at a time looking at a book. You don't even have to read it, just looking through it and pointing things out will start on the right path.

  2. I love story time. My LO loves it so much that he gets upset when I stop. He gets upset when I get to the last paragraph of the book. He knows it's the en!. He does get over it pretty quickly. I guess it's good that he loves books so much!

  3. We also limit the number of books.Bedtime became with our now-3.5-year-old son a major power struggle for a long time (we did not do babywise with him). We do books in bed and this limits the power struggles because we have less distance to travel after the books are done.We've also discovered that he really needs to wind-down on his own before we read the stories. I always thought bathtime should do it, but it never did, and he'd be bouncing off the walls at bedtime. For YEARS. You can't believe how we tried to fix that – ignoring, time-outs, spanking, taking things away, rewards, stickers… oh man. But recently, by accident, I discovered that, at least for now, he simply needs to wind-down in bed before we read stories. While I nurse our baby, I put him on the bed with 3 books, and he stays there with them for 20-30 minutes. (My husband is a doctor and often not there for the bedtime routine). After tucking in the baby, I come back, read him 1-3 of the stories (depending on length), turn off the lights, tell him a made-up story (usually about a family of bunnies, which he loves), kiss him and leave.Maybe we're just going through a "good phase" right now, but this really seems to be working. Obviously most people who did babywise probably aren't running into major power struggles or troubles with their preschoolers winding down at night, but just in case… it's working for us. 🙂

  4. thank you for this post. my LO is 7 mos old and we read every night in her glider. right now her attention span is so short for books that this is not even an issue but i KNOW this will be helpful as she grows into the reader i hope she'll be!

  5. Consistency is so important. But also for another reason. It really cuts down on tantrums and whining, etc. If you let the child start running bedtime, then they will make sure to ask for more and more until they are wanting you to read for hours. With my 3-year-old, we've never let her run things too much, and she doesn't push too hard, but I know she would if we gave her an inch.

  6. Tweety,I start as soon as they are born. I have a time I read to the child at least once a day. But so far as incorporating into bedtime, I would start around 6-9 months or sooner.

  7. Hi HII am new to this site. just found out today about itBEDTIME; I have 3 month LO and her sleep pattern is all over. she sleeps half hour max during day time and this is per cycle and night time she is up every hour or every other hour. we dont know how to give her proper sleep pattern where she can sleep for good 5 to 6 hours straigt at night and about 2 to 3 hours sleep during day time. I do not like " Cry It Out" method at alll..can some one suggest anythiing. we swaddle, bath etc


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