Reading aloud has a host of educational benefits, but it works best if it isn’t approached as an educational exercise. Parents have been known to have children repeat each word after them, as a device to teach reading. Such a tedious approach is more likely to dampen enthusiasm for books than to promote learning.

Just enjoy the books together. The increased vocabulary, understanding of story structure, exposure to correct grammar, and other benefits will follow naturally. Here are some tips for making reading aloud the best it can be:

  • If you haven’t read the book already, scan it to get a sense of its content before you start reading aloud.
  • Choose books you are excited about or your child is excited about. It is hard to read a book you don’t enjoy, especially a long one.
  • Read with expression. A monotone is hard to listen to. Children need to hear changes in your voice to indicate when you are reading dialogue. Vary your pace, too. Slow down to build up suspense, and speed up during exciting scenes.
  • Create voices for difference characters if you enjoy it, but it isn’t necessary for a good reading. A story can be read effectively in a straightforward manner as long as you have expression and enthusiasm.
  • Read at a moderate pace, not too fast. Listening is a challenge for many children, and you don’t want to leave them behind you as you speed ahead. Picture-story books require time for enjoying the illustrations.
  • Feel free to stop and discuss the book if you and your listener want to. Answer questions as they come up. How much you want to stop and explain new words is up to you. If they can be understood in context, you may want just to keep reading. Stopping too often to explain can undermine the story’s impact.
  • Keep in mind that children can look bored or restless and still be listening. Some children need to be moving around or fidgeting with something. The real question is, are they following the story? If so, let them squirm or even draw pictures as they listen.
  • Sometimes a book will lead to conversations afterward, sometimes not. Play it by ear. Either way is fine.
  • If your child wants to read to you sometimes, great. Beginning readers especially enjoy their new skills. You can trade off pages or chapters, or just sit back and listen.
  • If your child is not enjoying a book, you are not obliged to finish it. This is most likely to come up with chapter books. You don’t want to abandon a book quickly, but if a book has not sparked interest after several sessions, try another one. If this is a pattern, you may want to switch to shorter books and build up to longer ones.
  • Try reading just a few poems together at a time. Start with light verse if you are uncomfortable with poetry. You may be surprised as how much fun you and your child can have with poems.

Written by Dina Santorelli for ParentingTeensOnline.

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