Preschoolers love the ritual of reading with you, and each time you snuggle on the couch with a story, they’re learning key literacy and language skills. But enjoying literature is about more than reading aloud.

You’re most effective, says Clara Bohrer, director of the West Bloomfield Township Public Library in West Bloomfield, MI, “when you actively engage your child by allowing him to ask and answer questions and make predictions about the story, rather than just passively listening.” Here are twelve ways to engage your preschooler, every time you open a book!

Before You Read

  • Fill Your Shelves. Preschoolers are ready for both fiction and nonfiction stories, so choose a mixture of genres from the library or bookstore. “Preschoolers can handle a more complex plot than younger children,” says Bohrer, “so look for books that will help your child learn about friendships, relationships, and emotions.” Start with the classics such as Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, and Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, or newer recommendations like Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems, Dog and Bear by Lisa Vaccaro Seeger, and Clap Your Hands by Lorinda Cauley.
  • Make Predictions. As you mix paint, bake cookies, or watch the weather around the house, ask your child to anticipate what will happen. How will it feel outside? What will happen if we put the cookies in the oven? Then, make predictions about the books you read. What is this book about? Do you think this will be a serious story or a funny one? Is it a pretend story or about true information?
  • Let Your Child Choose. As your child learns to engage with books, give him as much choice as possible. Let him choose the books and turn the pages. You’ll find yourself reading the same book over and over, says Barbara Willer, deputy executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and that’s a good thing!

While You Read

  • Make it a Conversation. After you read a few pages, ask open-ended questions that require your child to stop and think. Questions like: What would have happened if Little Red Riding Hood hadn’t stopped to pick flowers? Why do you think that character felt so sad? And, who would you have invited to the tea party?
  • Make Connections. Ask questions that encourage kids to connect what they’re reading to their own experiences. Reading Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, for example, might prompt your child to remember the time that you went to the pond and fed the ducks. Start the discussion with a connecting question: The ducks in this book are white. What color were the ducks in our trip last week?
  • Have Fun with Words. Books that include rhyming or alliteration, like nursery rhymes or Dr. Seuss, help your child focus in on the beginning and ending sounds of words. As your child becomes familiar with the stories and rhymes, let her fill in the rhymes as you read.
  • Consider the Author. As you read, ask your child why the author included certain things. As your read Ian Falconer’s Olivia, for example, ask your child why Falconer decided to include only three colors in the illustrations: black, white, and red.
  • Introduce Key Concepts. Pointing to each word as you read shows your child that we read from left to right, and starts to reinforce the key literacy concepts that words are made of letters, and sentences are made of words.
  • Be a Model. Research has shown that when you model reading, your kids learn to love it too, says Willer. Spend some time each week reading together, but independently, you with your novel and your child with his favorite book.

After You Read

  • Act It Out. Make puppets or use dress up clothes to act out a favorite story. Dramatic play challenges your child to retell a story while building oral language and sequencing skills
  • Be The Illustrator. Draw a picture that shows what happened in the story. Start with the main idea and then add details. Your child’s comprehension will improve, and she’ll learn how to structure her ideas.
  • Refer Back. After you read, use new vocabulary or make references to stories. For example, if you were reading about a giant, you might describe a tree as “as big as a giant.” Or, if you read a book about making cookies, you could connect back to the story during dessert.

Each time you read with your child, it’s a chance to connect with her and expand her world. As your child starts to fall in love with reading, she’ll memorize her favorite books and “read” along with you!