How to Read to Children

Reading to my daughter is really one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. It’s a time when I can become a kid again for a little bit, and just fall into a familiar story. Plus, my wife and I are already seeing the benefits that my daughter gets from reading to her on a regular basis. Watching her sit on the couch flipping through a whole stack of books is a wonderful thing. She’s now starting to make up stories of her own to go along with the pictures, too, so that’s even better.

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Photo courtesy of kennymatic

Sometimes reading to your children can be tough, so I’ve put together a short list of tips that can making reading to children more enjoyable; both for you and the child.

  • Make the book a door to another world. Add some drama to the whole experience even before you open the book. Ask your child, “Where do you think this book’s going to take us?” Build up some anticipation even before you look at the first page. Remind the child (and yourself) that a book is more than paper and words on a page. It’s a ticket to other times, other places, even places where magic works and treasures can be found.
  • Get them involved. The more you can involve your child in the story that you’re reading the better. Many of the rest of the tips go into detail on this, but anything you can do to get your child involved in the story — do it. The main character’s name is hard to pronounce? Change it to your child’s name. There’s a cat in the story? Change the name of the cat to the same as your pet cat.
  • Let the child choose the book. This one can be tough when you’re going on your fifteenth night of “Goodnight Moon,” but letting your child have that control does really involve them in the whole reading process. Children, especially younger children, find great comfort in repetition and familiarity. Knowing what’s coming next in a book gives them a sense of comfort. Give them this when you’re reading to them. Use the other tips in this list to help you make the same book more interesting. Change things up with how you read the book if you’re getting bored. See how fast you can read that “Goodnight Moon” and then see how slow you can read it.
  • Use voices. They don’t have to be professional, audiobook quality voices, and you don’t have to do voices for every character. If there’s a an old witch, though, make an old witch voice. If there’s a squeaky mouse or an elephant, make a squeaky voice or a big, exaggerated deep voice. It gets the child more excited about the story, not to mention it makes it more interesting for you as a reader. As a side note, there are some good comic “side effects” of using voices. The first time you scream out some dialog in a good loud voice, and then hit the “, she whispered” phrase at the end of the dialog, you’ll see what I mean.
  • Use hand gestures and facial expressions. When things are flying through the air in the story, something should be flying through the air outside of the story. When the dark wizard locks the main character with a steely glare, you should do the same to your child. Looking at your child while you’re reading will really pull them into the story.
  • Show emotion. When the characters in the story are running and scared, this should come through in your voice. If the pace of the story is fast, you should be reading fast. If the pace of the story is slow, you should be reading slow. Exaggeration is your friend. Scared? Cover your eyes while you’re reading (this is a neat trick, too). Sad? You should be frowning. Funny? Laugh.
  • Ask questions. As you go along, ask your child questions. Questions like “What do you think is going to happen next?” or “Do you think that was a good idea?” help to get your child invested in the story. They also help build story-telling skills into your child as they learn ideas of where the story can go from a certain point. The fun part here, is that you’ll be amazed by the answers. Feel free to take off with the answers, too. Change the story if you need to. There are no story police hiding in your back yard waiting to pounce on you if you change the story. Granted, this gets harder as your child gets better at reading, but take advantage of it while you can.
  • Allow for interruptions. Don’t be a story-reading Nazi. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. Sitting your child in a hard back chair and telling them not to move or talk while you’re reading won’t be fun for either of you. Let them ask their own questions. Let them comment on parts of the story. Again, you’ll be amazed by what your child comes up with.

Any other tips for reading to children? Please add them in the comments.

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