By Brenda Gurr
Reading aloud to kids: your step-by-step guide to brilliance
Welcome to 2019! Do you find it as hard to believe as we do? How are your new year’s resolutions coming along? Some of you might be determined to read more, particularly given the topic of our December post. If you have children in your life, you might also have resolved to spend more quality time with them. And there is no better way to do this than to read aloud to kids—from newborns right up to independent readers. So whether you’re a parent, teacher, day care worker or favourite aunt or uncle, try our simple guide to creating a sensational storytime experience!
Step 1: Choose your book
With the possible exception of reading to young babies (who will just love to hear the soothing sound of your voice), choose books carefully. Of course, your child may want some say in this too! Board books or cloth books (with non-rip pages) are great for older babies. Try simple and short picture books for toddlers, including rhyming books—they are a lot of fun and encourage an interest in the musicality of language. And don’t be afraid to read picture books to older children. There are many that contain more sophisticated themes, words and illustrations. Ask a librarian or bookstore for help. Of course, you can also share chapter books and novels with older children, reading a chapter or two per session.
The golden rule for choosing books? Read or skim the book yourself first to make sure it is appropriate and worthwhile for your audience. And please choose a book that you enjoy too! It makes for a much better experience for everyone.
Step 2: Make reading aloud special
Help to make reading aloud a special time. Read at a regular time in as comfortable and relaxing a space as possible (not always easy for large families, we know!). Turn off the TV or other screens and try to personalise the experience for your listener. For example, ask your child if they would like to hold the book or turn the pages. Skip parts (gasp!) that your child is finding boring or any language you don’t like. And I hereby give you permission to abandon any book that isn’t working. Don’t put yourself through the pain. There is a galaxy of books out there.
Step 3: Share, don’t just read
Frustrated actors rejoice! Here is your big chance to perform! Children love it when you use expression to bring a story to life, even if you aren’t Morgan Freeman or Dame Judi Dench. Kids particularly adore enthusiastic storytellers who use different character voices. Always keep in mind the four p’s of vocal control: pitch, pace, pause and power (volume), and vary them accordingly. Our biggest tip? Whispers are magical—and can gain attention just as much as a loud voice can.
Take time to point out the illustrations and any interesting words and ideas in your chosen book. Questions like ‘What do you think that character feels?’, ‘What do you like about that picture?’ and ‘What do you think that word might mean?’ all enhance the reading experience. For older children, sharing books slightly above their reading level can be a great way to open up discussions about challenging or difficult ideas. When I shared John Christopher’s TheTripodstrilogy with my 10-year-old, we discussed issues such as courage, friendship, standing up for what you believe in and how to defeat aliens taking over the Earth (okay, maybe not so much that last one). On some nights, we also took it in turns to read, which added a lovely feel to the whole experience.
Step 4: Congratulate yourself!
It’s not always easy to find the time to read aloud but be assured that doing so is making a powerful differe.nce to a child’s life. So, well done! You are brilliant! Enjoy this rich and rewarding experience with a child you know—as often as you can.