You know all the reasons why reading aloud to children is important. You’ve heard it from your child’s preschool teacher, you’ve heard it from me, you’ve heard it from The New York Times, and you’re a believer! You’re ready to learn some strategies for reading books to kids in a way that is engaging and motivating, creates treasured memories, and provides all the priceless benefits of reading aloud.
Here are my very best tips for making the most of your read alouds.
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Look for Rhyme and Repetition
Be on the lookout for books with rhyme and repetition. The rhyming is a valuable readiness skill, and along with repetition, it creates a rhythm that makes listening to these books soothing and enthralling for kids. I find that reading these kinds of books is pretty soothing and enthralling for me, too!
When you find a book that rhymes or uses a lot of repetition, read it to yourself a few times before you read it aloud to your child.
Look for the parts that rhyme, and make sure that they sound natural when you read them aloud. It’s best to know when the rhyming bits are coming up, and being ready to emphasize those parts makes a huge positive difference in the quality of your read aloud.
Once your child has heard the book a few times, pause just before the end of a line to invite your child to say the rhyming word with you. Know when the repetition is coming up, too, and after a couple of times, pause and look expectantly at your child just before you read the section that repeats. It won’t be long before your child is gleefully chiming in.
“…but the bear snores on.”
In a demonstration video included in my online course for parents, How to Raise a Reader – Reading Readiness Edition, I read the book Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson to my nephew James. Although it takes a few times and a nudge or two from me, when James joins me in exclaiming “…but the bear snores on,” his delighted smile lights up his whole face.
(THAT is why I love reading aloud to kids so much. In addition to developing reading readiness skills, it promotes bonding and its just FUN.)
Good books for preschoolers have photographs and illustrations that are clear, colorful and engaging. Use these illustrations as an opportunity to talk about new vocabulary – label and explain any items or activities that might be unfamiliar to your child.
Doing this regularly sends a message to your child that discussing the pictures in a book is a natural part of reading. It won’t be long before your child is asking their own questions about the illustrations, which naturally leads to even more engagement and interaction. It’s a simple, powerful way to help your child’s vocabulary explode during these preschool years.
Simple, fun plots with action that moves quickly will hold your child’s interest, and they let you focus on comprehension in a low-key, fun way. Reading books with straight-forward plots is a great opportunity to ask sequencing questions about what happened first, next and last.
You can also ask concrete literal questions about who, what, and where. If an obvious opportunity arises, start a quick conversation about how something happened in the story, or why a character did something in particular.
Picking relatable stories about everyday life with main characters (human or animal) who are your child’s age or just a litte bit older will set your child up for success in comprehension right from the beginning.
If you feel comfortable using character voices when you are reading, do it! And if it feels awkward, jump in and do it anyway. Practice is the only way for it to get easier, and your child will appreciate any voice you come up with. Don’t feel like you have to give each character their own voice – maybe just use a different voice for the main character, and let it go at that.
Keep it Short and Sweet
Keep reading sessions as short as necessary, and if your audience is getting impatient or wiggly, quickly summarize the ending of the book and try again later. While some kids love to snuggle up while we read to them, others are not ready to do this during those active preschool years.
The entire year that my daughter was two, even for bedtime stories she would wander the perimeter of the room while I was reading. I could tell she was listening, and every now and then she would circle back to look at the pictures. Eventually she became as cuddly as her brother was during reading time, and could relax next to me for long read aloud sessions.
Explore and Experiment
Play around with these tips and see which ones work for you and your family. You may find that your kids love silly character voices but lose interest when you ask too many questions about the book. This is just fine! Use the tips that work for you, and come back to the others later. ENJOY your read
aloud time with your precious little ones.
I’ve always loved reading aloud to kids, but years ago, The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease ignited my beliefs about why I read to kids. His stories about the power we have to improve children’s lives by reading aloud to them will get you fired up too.
More recently, I read The Read Aloud Family by Sarah MacKenzie and it made me happy that we are such a reading family. MacKenzie emphasizes the power that reading aloud has to create a shared family culture, and that is something that we have seen so much in our home.
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