A few weeks ago, I devoted an entire blog to the importance of reading to children. A few people e-mailed me after reading that blog post with a very valid comment and question, something along the lines of “I’d love to read more with my child, but he just doesn’t seem that engaged when I read to him. Do you have any tips for making reading more exciting?”
Through my years in the classroom, where I routinely read aloud books that needed to simultaneously captivate the attention of the 20+ children in my classroom, I found a few simple ways to make the important activity of reading more fun my little listeners.
Explore the book before you begin
Look at the cover of the book with your child and ask him to guess what the story will be about. Glance at a few pictures on the beginning pages to give your child the opportunity to speculate on the characters and possible setting in the story. Do the pictures give the reader any clue about what might happen in the story? Does the title of the book help you guess what the story may be about? Making guesses prompts a child to pay careful attention as the story is read so he can find out if his guesses were correct.
Guess the ending
When reading a new story to your child, stop before the last page or two and ask your child to guess how the story will end. To make it more fun, you can guess as well. Then, of course, read the book to see how the author ended the story. Then talk about the ending. Was the ending happy, sad or hopeful? Was it surprising? Your child will be sure to stay engaged until the very last page if he is curious whether his prediction was correct.
Make up a new ending
Ask your child to think of several different ways the story could end. You might give him suggested types of endings for him to think about such as silly, scary, how he hopes it ends, mystery ending, or surprise ending to name a few. After reading the actual ending of the book, talk about how your child’s version is similar or different from the author’s ending. Does your child like his version better?
Use different voices
Nothing delights a child more than to see an adult act in silly or unexpected ways. And story telling or reading is a terrific opportunity to be a little creative. Add some voices to the characters in the story. The sillier you sound, the more entertained your child will be.
Give your child a part to read or say
Often there are phrases or words that are repeated in a story. Point to your child at the appropriate time and ask him to chime in. If you are adding silly voices as you take on the roles of different characters, perhaps your child will use a silly voice also. When reading a story becomes interactive, it becomes more fun.
Read several versions of the same story
Many folk tales like “Three Billy Goats Gruff” or “Goldilocks,” for example, have been retold by several authors and illustrators. (Your local librarian can help you locate different versions of the same story.) It is a lot of fun to read the same tale several times using different versions of the story. Your child can act as a detective and be on the lookout for similarities and differences between the books. Then discuss his reactions to the different versions. Which story was his favorite and why? Which illustrations did he like the best?
Change the middle
After reading a story one or more times, ask your child to think about “helping the author” by changing something in the middle of the story that will affect the outcome of the story. Perhaps your child will change the action in the story or change one of the character’s reactions or behaviors in the story. Your child might elect to add some new characters or take some out of the story. Suggest to your child that he change the setting of the story or the time of year or climate in the story. Retelling a story in a winter setting, for instance, can be lots of fun when the original story was set in a warm climate or in the summertime. Encourage your child to get creative and even silly.
Add a craft
Crafts are a hands-on way to bring a story to life. For example, in the book, Corduroy by Don Freeman, a teddy bear loses his button and his owner sews a new one on his overalls. Your child might enjoy practicing sewing large buttons with an oversized needle and yarn. Or, perhaps your child would enjoy drawing and creating stick puppets that represent the characters in the story. He can use those figures when he retells the story. Drawing a picture of his favorite character or action in the story can also bring a book to life. Let your child know ahead of time that you and he will think of a fun activity or craft to do based on the story so he will pay attention to the entire story to determine what part of the story he wants to highlight in his craft.
Follow-up conversation and questions
I always enjoy hearing how children feel and think about stories that they hear. Sometimes they pick up small details that I didn’t notice or respond in a way that surprises me. Follow-up conversations always make a book reading activity richer.
With a little forethought, story time can go from boring to engaging! Enjoy introducing your child to the joy of books and instilling in him a lifelong love of reading.