Reading to children is one of the most important things you can do together to encourage literacy.
Any reading is beneficial but as a teacher, I feel there is a right way to read a story. I am making a video about storytelling-keep your eyes out for it! But until then read on for my top tips to ensure story time delights your children and fosters a lifelong love of reading.
1. Pick the right story
There is a lot of talk about how any story is a good story if its gets children reading but I am going to have to disagree. It’s not a matter of snobbery or taste, it’s just that some books will actually dampen creativity and dull your spirit, and some books will live in your heart until you’re an old wizened little being.
For a list of my top picks and books to avoid, see this previous post.
You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with a story before reading it to your child so that you have an idea of plot and character and to ensure there are no nasty surprises or inappropriate content.
If you are a new parent and don’t have a long teaching career behind you, a little practice can go a long way. Consider planning ahead and reading aloud to your bump when pregnant, or recording yourself and listening back to it.
3. Sound eager
There’s nothing worse than an unenthusiastic reader-even Harry Potter’s adventures sound boring in a monotone voice.
4. But not too eager!
Especially just before bedtime, parents have to strike a balance between a fun exciting story and not getting the kids all worked up before sleepy time. If you have ever listened to Robert Munsch read one of his stories aloud, you’ll know what I mean- calm down, man!
5. Vary pace, tone and character voices.
You don’t need to be an impersonator, but try to inject a little distinct personality into every character, if for no other reason, so you can tell them apart. If you don’t think you can do this, simply retell the part of the three bears when they find their porridge has gone, everyone can do a convincing papa bear, mama bear and baby bear voice- so start here.
6. Listen to punctuation
If there is a question mark, use an inflection, an exclamation, sound excited, loud or angry, a comma, take a pause etc. I always like to pause between any big action scenes, especially if the picture shows what’s happening, this gives the child a chance to question and become excited.
7. Check your inhibitions at the door
When I first entered university to become a teacher I was very self-conscious about singing to children in particular. It was sort of a family joke that I was terrible singer and I felt quite nervous about launching into song. What I soon discovered is that little children do not care- they value enthusiasm and having a go, they are not X-factor judges. I have had many, many children tell me I have a beautiful singing voice, this is not true, and they weren’t buttering me up to get a better grade, they simply saw beauty in my effort. So much of teaching and parenting is acting -don’t be afraid-give it a go!
8. Don’t try to over teach
There are two types of reading, instructional reading and reading for pleasure. One sure fire way to make children hate reading is insisting they sound out every word when they just want to find out what happens in the story. My two-year-old can “read” the first page of his Mog book, it’s his favorite and he knows it off by heart, so we celebrate this, but otherwise let bedtime stories especially, be simply about enjoying a story together and save phonics and decoding for when children are alert and ready to learn.
9. Read and discuss
Talk about the pictures and what might happen next. Jan Brett books almost always have a completely separate story illustrated in the page borders and children seem to notice even the tiny details. When children are older you can talk about characters’ motivations and feelings, this is the beginning of reading comprehension.
10. Enjoy and model
Model reading for pleasure, show your child that reading is fun and valuable and encourage them to treat books gently and with respect.
The benefits of reading to children are numerous and powerful. A review in the Archives of Disease in Childhood states:
“Reading aloud to young children, particularly in an engaging manner, promotes emerging literacy and language development and supports the relationship between child and parent”.
So get reading today!