Teachers take for granted reading stories to children. I don’t mean the activity itself but the skill of reading aloud.
During my PGCE year, we had to lead a story session to the rest of the group. Still to this day it drives a cold sweat to my forehead and makes my hands clammy thinking about it. Obviously, this was the vital practice we needed to prepare us for reading aloud to classes of 30 post-graduation. But it never occurred to me how hard it is!
And we (teachers) bang on about how important it is for parents to be reading aloud with or to their children at home. But that’s easier said than done. Especially when most parents have other children, jobs and commitments to take care of. So, practicing reading fluency is hardly at the top of your agenda.
Not only this, but parents are often faced with a wriggling child and quite a distracting setting. You’re up against it when it comes to gaining a captive audience and reading a story without interruption.
What’s so great about your child listening to you read?
Believe it or not, reading aloud isn’t just a torture tactic used by teachers who want to ensure students are paying attention. When done properly, listening to a fluent reader is actually hugely beneficial for your child. It:
- Helps your child remember new and interesting vocabulary
- Strengthens bonds between you and your child
- Improves memory
- Leads to more intense and deeper information processing
- Help unpack complicated or difficult texts
- Bring a sense of comfort and joy
How can you make reading to your child exciting?
- Choose a book of appropriate length. Depending on the age of your child, you want to make sure that the book suits their attention span. For example, for children under the age of 3 you want to stick to chapter books. But for older children, chapter books are great for holding their interest and making them excited and invested in the story.
- Make sure the book is both challenging and interesting. The books you read aloud to your child should be ones that are above their reading level but pique their interest. You could start the Harry Potter series with your 7-year-old for example because the story is suitable, but the text would be too hard for them to read independently.
- Involve your child. This can be hard to do without disrupting the fluency too much but stopping at the end of a big paragraph or discussing an interesting illustration is a great way for you and your child to digest what’s happened and predict what could be ahead.
- Find the perfect spot to sit. Ideally, it’s somewhere that you’re both comfortable sitting for 20-30 minutes. Try to make it screen free and away from other potential distractions.
- Allow your child to do something whilst listening. Naturally, we would like our child to sit perfectly still whilst listening to you read. This simply doesn’t suit all children, especially younger children. Some options are drawing, making notes, following the story, or even closing their eyes.
- Be brave with the voices. This is a tough one if you’ve not been exposed to storytelling before. But creating voices for each of the characters can be what drives the enjoyment of listening for your child. If you’re not sure how to approach this, there are some excellent videos out there for you to get some inspiration.
- Try not to stop at every question. Hopefully, your child will be so inspired by the story that they want to comment on every plot twist. Try not to stop for every comment or question as this can disrupt the fluency and plot development. If possible, say to your child at the beginning that we can stop in-between and afterward but it’s mostly about them.
- Book talk. When you’re reading chapter books, your child will probably be desperate to carry on reading to find out more. To try and resist this urge, you could discuss some of their own predictions. You could ask, which part interested you the most today, what feelings did you experience whilst reading, did anything we read remind you of something else?