Reading books aloud is our favorite family pastime. Yes, my kids like to watch TV shows where robot dinosaurs build and crush things—what dinosaur-loving child would not enjoy that? But reading in our home is a time when we share smiles and cuddles, and I know that if given an option to read a new book or watch a show, my kids will choose a book.
It's important for us parents to put down our phones or close our laptops to spend time with our young kids. Reading aloud together not only builds literacy skills, but strengthens family connections as well. Here are some ways to make reading aloud a fun family experience. These tips are so easy—no printing, cutting, or prepping necessary!
- Get focused and comfy. While my kids love a good read-aloud today, our journey definitely didn't start out that way. My children were typical toddlers. They'd rip the page, put it in their mouths, color on it...you know, little kid things. But we kept trying to read with them. We shut off the TV, radio, or podcast and focused on them. We cuddled on the couch with a warm blanket and opened a book. They liked knowing what to expect when we read. They liked to be comfortable. The more your children have great experiences reading books, the more they will want to do it.
- Get your kid's input on the topic. Book choice is always key. I have a little one who loves animals, so anything fiction or nonfiction with animals will do. Since I know he will always choose something with "creatures," I let him pick the first book. But then I choose the next book. Try to choose books that expose your children to unfamiliar ideas, facts, and vocabulary words. If you only read about the things they like, they may become great independent readers on specific topics, but they'll miss out on opportunities to expand their knowledge in other areas. Reading aloud together is a perfect chance to deepen your children's interests and to expose them to different cultures and perspectives in the world.
- Take a walk through the pictures. Before you begin reading, flip through the book to look at the images and ask your children if they can guess what will happen. Get ready for some illogical guesses! They blow my mind with how strange their predictions can be, but I let them make their silly guesses. The best part is after the reading, we get to see if they were right. The kiddos light up if they are actually spot-on with their predictions. Another benefit of highlighting pictures for information is children will learn to use the pictures to help them decode words or get more information about the story. My husband and I recently read an illustrated version of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz aloud to our children. They would not have sat through it if not for the illustrations. We read an updated version of the book, so the illustrations were engaging and easy for the kids to enjoy. In the start of the read-aloud, they had no idea what would happen. But as we kept reading over the weeks, they referred back to other parts of the stories and made predictions based on what the next picture showed.
- Let conversations happen. One of my kids can be quite the chatterbox when I'm reading. He has a question or comment about everything. In the beginning, this was frustrating as it took forever to get through even a short book. I've since learned that the best thing is to allow him to think out loud. Now I enjoy his shared thoughts; plus, he helps his siblings see the story in a different light as well. If you're reading a book with unfamiliar vocabulary, like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, be prepared to answer questions! Questions mean the kids are paying attention to your words and thinking about them. They want to learn. Use the pictures to help them understand some of the context, and give them as kid-friendly a definition as possible. For instance, my son once asked me what "shrill" meant, and I hurt my throat during my demonstration! It was a fun and completely interactive exchange--and he got the idea.
- Ask questions...but sparingly. Yes, there are charts and bookmarks and guides to help parents ask questions before, during, and after reading. Questions are great. You get to understand what your child is thinking and prompt them to think deeper. But sometimes questions stop their imagination train from leaving the station. As I'm reading aloud, some of my children's questions inspire my questions to them. But the kids are not shy about asking me to "just read the story." If I ask too many questions, they start to feel like they're being prodded, and the read-aloud can lose its allure.
Wait and watch...
Within a day of finishing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with my children, I saw the impact of the story on my four-year-old's drawings. He loves to draw, but had only been using a small section of the 8x11 paper on any given day. Now he was filling the page and in some of his drawings, he had an element of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz! When he shows me his pictures, I always ask what he drew. This time he said, "It's a forest called the Dangerous Forest. There is a house that fell on the bad lady, and there are creatures that can get you." He proceeded to tell me more about what I had to do to stay safe in the forest. Creative thoughts out of the mouth of my quietest kiddo showed me that every moment spent reading counts.