How to Read with a Child

Reading with a Child Who Cannot Yet Read

Once you hear the full-throated laugh of your child, see them startle in surprise, or hear them squeal “again, again” when you finish a passage, you’ll be hooked; you’ll know you’ve done it right, and you’ll have created a memory, a feeling that will last a lifetime. With the investment of nothing but time and a little bit of brain power, you can turn bedtime into the best-time of day. A time to start adventures, go on epic journeys, learn important lessons, and turn the rest of the world off.

Listen, I know you’re tired. You’ve been working all day. You’ve come home (or have been working in the home) have started (or continued with) the chores, made food, dealt with the bills, the PTA, the in-laws, the friends, the frenemies, politics (lower-case p), Politics (uppercase P), married life, single life, traffic, the boss, the employees, and every other thing that an adult has to deal with on a day-to-day basis. If you have more than one child, I’d set the multiplication factor exponentially at 12 per additional child. Life is hard. Dead stop. Yes, you can say it, think it, feel it. Life is hard. And now, this little human (they are little humans even when they behave like little monsters) wants to hear a bedtime story. I’m here to tell you: Yes. Do it. And, you should encourage them to want to hear a story.

I’m not going to bore you with why reading every day with your child is a good idea. There are plenty of articles written about that. The other writers can bore you. I will link to a few. You can go read them. I will wait for you right here.

Now that you’re back, let’s go over some ways to get the most out of it; for both you and the child.

Be Present

Well, if you think that I’m going to start with some New Age fangled stuff, you’re right. (Although at this point isn’t it really Old Age?) If you are rushing through the reading, looking at your watch, dreading every second of it and thinking of what you’re going to be doing next, you should not be reading with your child. Stop. Don’t do it. Grab the Pad, the Laptop, the Computer, the Whatever. Go to YouTube and find a story of somebody entertaining reading a book and let your child view that. You can go have a drink (your beverage of choice) and relax. You are in no condition to be reading a storybook. You are not invested. It is not that you are necessarily a bad caregiver. I’m not judging. I don’t know you. You are just not in the right frame of mind to complete the task at hand.

To read a storybook and actually connect with the book and the child, you need to be fully invested in the child and the story. There is no fooling a child. The second your mind starts to wander, the child will wander with you. Reading a storybook is work. And, it should be. The benefits that you read about in those articles I linked? You didn’t think those fell out of the sky, did you? Reading a storybook takes concentration, anticipation, joy, rhythm and enthusiasm. You cannot do it if your mind is wandering all over the place. You have to fully commit.

If you want to establish a routine of regular reading with your child, you have to do just that: establish a regular routine. It has to be when you BOTH set aside a place and time to be in your own little world–undisturbed from the world around you. You have to start by making the time available in your schedule, to be present. This is not something you can half-ass.

Do I Have to Do the Voices?

Really? Is this even a question? The answer is a resounding, yes! And, by the way, the Narrator has a voice. Kids LOVE when each character has a different voice. It keeps up their attention, it sparks their interest, it engages their minds. I want you to stop for a moment and think of the story of The Three Little Pigs. Those of you that know the story, know the line: “then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll bloooooow, your house down!” OK, how many of you just heard that in the voice of the Big Bad Wolf? What about “not by the hair of my chinny chin chin”? Did you hear that in the voice of a tiny, squeally little pig? Chances are you did.

Now I’m not going to kid you. Doing voices is hard work. And, I know that some of you are put off by this. But I have news for you: your child doesn’t care whether or not you are any good at doing the voices. They only care about your enthusiasm and that you try. So, here are some tricks of the trade. If voices are not your strong suit, do dynamic reading. Vary your rhythm. Speed things up. Slow them down. Take, dramatic, pauses. Stop. Continue. Talk Louder! Talk softer. The punctuation on the page is your friend. Use it as a guidepost. [By the way, even if your voices are good, you should be reading dynamically anyway.]

Your Reading Must be Interactive

Anticipatory/Interactive reading is key to not only building a life-long love of reading, but to building the critical thinking and reasoning skills we all need to survive in the world.

As you read the story, ensure that your child explores the pictures on the page. Ask questions like: “What do we see in these pictures?” “What do you think this means?” “How is this character feeling?” “Is she happy? Sad?” “Have we seen this before?” “Is there something missing?” You can even ask your child to predict what might happen depending on what the pictures are showing.

Every now and then, take pauses in the story and ask your child to review for you what has happened so far. This, is your check for understanding. With younger children, you may have to do a bit of leading. Once you’ve done a recap, ask your child to predict what’s going to happen next and why they think that’s going to happen. As your child gets older, the predictions will get better.

The key to interactive reading is to remember that you are not just a reader, you are actively acting as a parent, teacher, caregiver, instructor, and mentor. You are developing vocabulary, bridging synapses, strengthening concepts–in short, you are building a human building. All, under the guise of reading a storybook. [End.]

You can find more on parenting here.

People often ask me what my favorite storybooks are. There are many and depend on everything from mood, to audience, to need. I’ve listed some of them below. If you’d like to purchase any of them, and support my endeavors at the same time, you can click on one of the links below. No extra cost to you, and it will help me out! More books to read, more reviews to do!

Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.

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  1. Alex, this post brought up memories of my mother reading to me and my sister. We loved that she read to us, and it’s one favorite memory we both have. I was 4-5 and she was 7-8. But mom had a way of reading that still makes us laugh.
    When you suggest that if a reader can’t do voices they should vary the pace of how you read. Absolutely. But mom would hold the pauses a little too long. She’d get to some point in the story where something was described in detail and say something like, “and she had big hair and a crooked nose,” and then look at each of us with big eyes. She would just keep looking at us, but we never knew what she was waiting for, so we would laugh and ask her to start reading again.
    So, my additional advice to readers is to “read the audience” as well as the book. After a few books, see what style works with the child, and adjust if necessary. Your children will always love that you read to them, and will remember it many years later. But if you can adjust your style to how your children listen, perhaps when they grow up, they won’t lovingly tease you about it.

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