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A Parent’s Guide to Reading Stories to Children

Updated on March 01, 2017

Reading stories to children is both entertaining and educational. It inspires imagination, enhances knowledge, reinforces behaviors and most importantly, it is fun. However, to get the most out of reading a story, parents must keep in mind some basic and practical—all of which can help improve the experience, as well as encourage children to read more.

Let children enjoy storytelling.
Let children enjoy storytelling. | Source

Choose appropriate books for your child

So what constitutes an appropriate book for your child? This varies from child to child depending on several factors. So buckle up and let’s explore how you can find the most appropriate children’s book for your child. Their developmental stage is critical when you choose the right book for your child. This encompasses everything from the font size to the words used in the story. It may seem too tedious but it is worth the time to scrutinize the book of your choice.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing an appropriate book for your child:

  • Are the words simple enough for my child to understand?
  • Are there enough pictures to illustrate what is in the book?
  • Is the topic child-appropriate?
  • Is the layout of the pages simple and interesting for my child?
  • Will this book be interesting for my child?

When you read to your child with a book that is appropriate for him/her, you get to engage the child more. Their interest is sustained, they become more interested, and most importantly, they enjoy the activity.

Pre-reading checklist

Many parents think that reading a book is as simple as just opening the book and reading what’s on it. Well, technically that’s what you do. But to make the experience a little more interesting you have to whet the appetite of your child first. Although it is easy to just cuddle and dive into the story, you may want to go through the pre-reading checklist so that everything will be just perfect.

Make it comfortable: when the child is relaxed, he/she will get to focus better. Plus the child will eventually associate reading with something comfortable and relaxing. Depending where you are reading to your child, you may want to use pillows, blankets, control the temperature and other small details to make it a little more comfortable for your child.

Eliminate distractions: You want to child to focus on the activity so make sure distractions like gadgets and toys are kept out of sight. Whenever possible, find a place where noise is at the minimum. This will help the child focus on your voice and the story.

Proper lighting: the right lighting will help make reading easier. The right light will help prevent eye strain.

Find a springboard discussion: this step allows the child to become more involved in the story. If the story is about pets, then talk about what pets your child wants. The springboard discussing introduces the topic of the book by letting your child draw out his or her experiences, ideas, and imagination.

Unlock some word: unlocking words means introducing a new word to your child. Some books although written for kids may contain words that they have not heard or used. It is a good idea to unlock these words by defining it using synonyms, using in a sentence and having the child use it on their own. By unlocking words before telling the story, the child will have an easier time understanding and following the story.

Storytelling is a bonding time.
Storytelling is a bonding time. | Source

Use different voices when reading to your child

Reading a book entails having to bring the characters to life. Since you are using static illustrations on the book, you need to use some showmanship. One of the best ways to bring a character to life is to change your voice based on the character. This auditory stimulus can create a better experience for the child since the storytelling becomes a little more dynamic and interesting.

Here are some of the most common types of voices we use:

  • Big Characters – use a deeper/lower voice
  • Small characters – use higher pitch
  • Villains – use a scary voice

Perhaps the next time you watch an animated film you can hone in the voices of the characters. This will give you an idea of the different characteristics of voices used. This will help you develop a better set of voices when you read a story to your child. Of course practicing the different pitches is a good idea. It will make the story a little more convincing for the child.

Changing the pitch of your voice also helps convey the intensity of the story. When you are at a part where there is a chase, you may want to raise your voice and use a higher pitch to reflect the urgency in the scene. A low voice can also indicate a point in the story where a hushed voice is needed. This builds the climax and adds to the thrill.

In an activity where the visual cues are static, the auditory stimuli helps animate the characters and the scene. Make sure you refrain from using a monotone voice as this will make it boring and drab.

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The reading speed or pace also matters

Asides from the texture of your voice, the speed at which you read the story matters. Remember that reading a story to a child is like a performance. So even how fast you read can affect the overall appeal. This includes reading at a faster rate for exciting or fast-paced portions of the story. This creates the illusion of having to move fast. Likewise, using a slower pace can elicit a more relaxed mood in the story.

Pausing from time to time also brings a little more dimension to the story telling. It creates anticipation. Moreover, pausing gets the child to want more.

The right mix of speed in the way you read will bring to life the characters as well as the scenes of the story. So it is a good idea to read the story ahead of time and even practice where you need to create excitement, anticipation or a relaxed mood.

Apart from the dramatic use of different speeds in reading, the way you read can help emphasize words or sentences. This allows the child to focus on the word, phrase or sentence. By letting the child focus on these, they become more aware of these special parts of the story. Perhaps you can emphasize the following:

  • New words
  • Idiomatic expressions
  • Important parts of the story
  • Important lessons in the story
  • Focusing on good acts shown by the characters

As a rule of thumb, we want the child to focus on parts of the story that we want them to remember. This usually includes the main lesson of the story. There are times when you need to repeat words, phrases or even sentences to give emphasis. Pausing provides a dramatic effect as well as a chance for the child to internalize key sections of the story.

The right storytelling skills can make children have more fun.
The right storytelling skills can make children have more fun. | Source

Ask Questions

The involvement of the child is paramount when reading stories. And we can help them focus by asking questions. Properly placed questions can clarify events in the story, introduce the next scene and can even help the child process information and generate his/her outcomes and actions. What is essential is encouraging the child to think and share his/her ideas.

Before telling the story

By asking questions before the story, you get to gauge how interested the child is with the topic or characters. Likewise, you get to see his/her understanding about the lessons or the topic discussed in the story.

During story telling

Sometimes it is a good idea to break off character and ask a question to the child. Ask the child’s opinion about the character’s actions – Would you do the same? What would you do if you were the character? What would be a better course of action? What do you think happens next? By soliciting answers during the story, you get to see if the child is listening attentively to the details. Moreover, you get to see if the child is processing the information that he/she is receiving.

After the story

Asking questions after the story goes beyond knowing if the liked or enjoyed it. Rather, inquire about what lessons the child learned. Here are some areas you can explore after reading the book to your child:

  • What lessons he/she learned?
  • Why the character did what he/she did in the story
  • Explore similar events in the child’s life – at school, at home or with friends
  • Ask how he/she can be more like the main character
  • What alternative endings he/she can think of
  • Identify behaviors that should be done in real life and those that should be avoided

Asking question at the end is simply processing the lessons and information that was passed on the child. How the child thinks will surface more clearly when parents ask questions.

Turn storytelling time into family time.
Turn storytelling time into family time. | Source

Storytelling is a wonderful activity that parents and children can enjoy. The bond that it creates is spectacular. Moreover, it creates a sense of security and comfort that children can associate with reading. Making this acting a little more meaningful is way more than just picking out a colorful book from the shelf. It requires the parent’s attention to detail and a little performance. But when you see your child’s eyes widen as you read to them or when they snuggle closer to you when the villain almost catches the main character, you know you are on the right path. An engaging storytelling sparks the child’s imagination and builds on knowledge and skills that will last them a life time. That alone is a good enough reason to tell stories to children.

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