A few years ago, one of our sons called and asked, “Mom, what was that book you used to read to me…the one about the King and his little girl?” Immediately, I knew book he was talking about. It was called, The King Who Was Too Busy…a delightful cautionary tale about the importance of spending time with your children. Because this was one of his favorites, I had tucked it away in a safe place and was quickly able to put my hands on the tattered copy we had savored together so often. You can imagine how touched I was that our son, now a father with daughters of his own, remembered and hoped to replicate this reading experience.
If you’re not doing it already, today is the perfect day to start and sustain reading aloud to your child (or children) no matter what the age. Follow these suggestions and your read-aloud time will feed everyone’s mind and spirit, create warm memories, stretch your youngster’s imagination, and set the stage for a lifetime of reading enjoyment.
Here are some tips to help you create reading experiences that will last a lifetime…
- Provide choice. If possible, offer a few different texts and let your child select the one he wants to hear.
- Choose age-appropriate texts. Young children can only sustain interest for a short time, so start with short texts that include colorful illustrations to keep the child’s attention.
- Become familiar with the text before reading it aloud. Read through short texts and identify tricky words, appropriate stopping points for discussion and parts that lend themselves to a change in volume, expression or speed.
- Preview the book with your child before reading aloud. Discuss the title and author, make predictions, build background knowledge if necessary. A few seconds at the start creates interest and enhances comprehension.
- Explain any confusing concepts or tricky vocabulary the child needs to know to avoid confusion.
- Create an atmosphere that signals a special time. Turn off the TV and electronic devices, settle in on a comfortable chair, couch, bed or blanket, consider using a book light so that you can dim the other lights in the room. Attention to detail will send a positive message to your listeners and heighten anticipation.
- Attention Fathers: Since most teachers are women, kids hear lots of read-alouds from females in the classroom setting. Dispel the notion that reading is only for girls, by becoming a regular reader in your child’s life.
- Most importantly, relax and enjoy this experience with your child!
- Consider what is happening in the story and vary your tone, volume and pace accordingly. Reading slowly and with expression will engage your child and add to his enjoyment and understanding.
- If you are able to pull it off, use different voices for the characters. Younger children usually get a big kick out of this.
- Involve the child when possible. Let little ones turn the pages, fill in a word, or read repetitive text.
- Don’t rush! Slowing down enables the child to create pictures in his mind and think about what’s happening.
- Stop and Think. Stop and Talk. At appropriate points, stop and give the child a few seconds to think about what’s happening or how the story makes him feel. Encourage questioning, inferencing, predicting, but don’t overdo and make this an academic activity. The goal is simply to encourage thinking and keep your child actively engaged with the text.
- If you are reading a long text, stop at a cliffhanger so listeners are eager for more.
- Offer a variety of genres. Poetry, magazine articles, and non-fiction books are great choices.
- Repetitive readings are fine. If your child falls in love with a special book and enjoys listening to it over and over, go for it. Just remember to offer other choices as well.
- Sit and savor. Take a minute to simply sit together quietly, savoring the experience.
- Clarify any confusions your child may have and again, encourage discussion and wonderings.
- Responding to text through drawing, writing or acting it out extends the experience. If your child shows an interest in extension activities (this doesn’t have to occur right after the read aloud) encourage him to respond in any way he chooses.