It won’t come as news to you that there are many well researched benefits of reading books with children. Reading improves language development, future literacy skills, concentration and helps build interpersonal connections. But is it as simple as picking up any old book and reading it word for word? Well – it could be, but here are a few tips on how to do it even better and get maximum bang for your reading buck!
Switch off the screens. Move away from the busyness and try to capture as much of your child’s attention as possible. Background noise reduces the amount of language processing your child can do, as well as challenging their ability to concentrate. This goes for you as well. Where possible, try to dedicate the time to just the task (book) at hand.
Let your child choose the book
You might see a running theme through many of my posts about being “child lead”. It applies to nearly every aspect of child learning. The premise is simple – Children learn more and concentrate longer when they are doing things that THEY are interested in . So let them choose the book (even if that means “disappearing” a few that you JUST. CANT. HANDLE. Wiggles “Big Red Car Adventure” – I’m looking at you).
Go off script
I know. I know. It’s much easier to just read the same text that you’ve read a hundred times before. On some of the favourites, I bet you’ve learnt it by heart. But the research tells us that this style of passive book reading isn’t as beneficial as making reading interactive. Try to foster a two-way conversation by commenting on other aspects of the story and pictures. You could talk about how you think the characters are feeling, what they might do next or relate things in the book to your child’s own experiences.
Asking questions is one way of getting this interaction – and this will be easier for your little person when the story is familiar to them. But BEWARE ASKING TOO MANY QUESTIONS. The real goal here is to keep the flow natural so that it doesn’t interrupt the story too much or turn the experience into a test.
If you like a concrete guide – Remember this rule of “hand”. One question (thumb) for every four comments (fingers).
Notice what is grabbing your child’s interest in the book
Again, follow your child’s lead on what is interesting them. If your toddler wants to skip ahead pages to their favourite part – go with it. There’s no point having a battle over a skipped page if it loses their engagement. If they are particularly absorbed by a certain page, then spend more time talking about those pictures and that part of the story. Learning the actual narrative (story-line) components of books is only one small part of the book reading experience.
Give your child a chance to talk
Try not to do all the talking. For the experience to be interactive, we need to give our children the chance to say something. The simplest way to do that is to just wait. Create “expectant pauses” (I.e. where you pause and look at your child to see if they have something to say). At the end of every page or two could be a good way to start.
Read with emotion – especially when using new vocabulary
There’s no need to shy away from new vocabulary when reading – in fact, it’s one of the best parts! Help your child learn the meaning of these new words by pointing out relevant illustration and linking them with words your child already knows. Try providing context with the emotion in your voice. If the character in the book is frustrated, then put that frustration into your voice for that part. Tone of voice can help bring the book to life a bit more and get your child that bit more interested.
And remember – Books aren’t just for bedtime! Although a relaxing pre-bed book has its place in the daily routine, it might not be the best time for an interactive discussion. Reading with your child in different places and at different times builds a real love of reading.