I began reading aloud to my kids from the time they were infants. Even though the oldest is now 18, they still enjoy hearing a good book read aloud. There are some tips for reading aloud to kids that will enhance the experience.
1. Enunciate. I’m not talking about saying each and every word distinctly and clearly complete with pauses between, but sometimes, when reading aloud, it’s a good idea to enunciate more than you would in your natural speaking voice. When you’re only hearing the words, rather than seeing them, as your listeners are, it can be easy to misunderstand if words aren’t spoken clearly.
2. Read slowly. I’ve read many times before the biggest mistake people make when reading aloud is reading too quickly. Again, your kids don’t want to hear you read in slow motion, but read a bit more slowly than you normally speak so that they don’t miss anything.
3. Use voices. I’ll be the first to admit that I am terrible at this and rarely do it. I often think, with envy, how much Robin Williams’ kids (does he have any?) must have enjoyed listening to him read. If you can pull it off, giving your characters different voices makes the story more fun and it makes it much easier to follow changes in dialogue for your listeners.
4. Show your kids the pictures. Even now, when I’m reading aloud to my tween and teens, I show them the pictures if there are any. With picture books, the illustrations often tell as much of the story as the words do, so make sure you’re taking time to look at the pictures with your kids. Point out things they may not notice or ask questions about what’s going on in the pictures.
There’s just nothing quite like a beautifully illustrated picture book.
5. Make sure they’re following the story. When reading a book with language or a storyline that is challenging for my listeners, I like to make sure they’re following the story. We read The Hound of the Baskervilles earlier this year. The language could be difficult for my kids to follow, so after I read a part that I suspected they might not understand, I’d ask them.
If they hadn’t really followed that part, I’d explain it. This paid off well because the more they got used to the writing style, the easier they found it to understand. About halfway through the book, they were begging me to keep reading whenever I’d stop at a suspenseful part. This was a complete turn around from the initial complaining that that book was boring.
6. Define unclear words. Reading aloud is a great chance to expose kids to unfamiliar vocabulary. For that reason, I like to define words that they probably don’t know…or, sometimes, words that I don’t know. I love being able to define a word right in the text when I’m using the Kindle app on my iPad.
I’ve only had the iPad a few weeks, but there have already been several times when I’ve thought about how helpful it would be to the kids to have a Kindle. When I’m reading a print book to myself, there are very few times that I’ll stop to look up an unfamiliar word, but it’s so easy to do when reading on the iPad.
7. But not all of them. It’s a good idea to define some of the unfamiliar words, but you certainly shouldn’t do that for all of them. Stopping frequently to define words is a good way to lose the thread of the story. Not only that, but often kids (and adults) can pick up the meaning of the word in context based on how it’s used in the sentence. That’s a good skill for kids to develop.
An alternative is to jot down unfamiliar words as you’re reading (you can write them or have the kids make their own lists) so that you can look them up when you’re finished.
8. Don’t stop when they get older. Don’t stop reading aloud to your kids once they are reading independently. As I said, even my 18 year old still enjoys listening to a good book. By continuing to read aloud to your older kids, you have opportunities to enjoy books together and to expose them to higher reading levels than they might be able to read on their own.
Plus, I love the idea of developing a family language through shared stories. Because Brianna and I are the only two in our family who have read the Twilight books, we have that kind of shared language. Quotes from the books are like inside jokes that we enjoy together.
9. Use audio and print books. If you like the idea of reading aloud, but can’t or don’t want to do all the reading yourself, consider audio books. I use audio books a lot with my dyslexic readers. They’re a great way to allow a struggling reader to still enjoy great books that he or she find too cumbersome to read independently.
One thing I really like to do is get both the audio and print book. That way, the reader can follow along with the words. Seeing and hearing the vocabulary is a great combination for a struggling reader because seeing the words as they’re read aloud make it much more likely that he’ll recognize the word the next time he sees it in print.
10. Make homemade “turn the page” books. I made reference to this in my post about 15+ picture books I’m saving for my grandkids, but I love the idea of making homemade turn the page books for my grandkids some day. This would be a great idea, too, for a parent who travels a lot – or a parent who doesn’t travel a lot and is having to leave a child who’s not used to Mom or Dad being gone. It could also be fun if you make use of room time for your kids.
If you’re old like me, you may remember those Disney recorded books that said, “You will know it is time to turn the page when Tinkerbell rings her bell like this…” Basically, you make a recording of yourself reading the book aloud and you ring a bell (or some other sound) when it’s time for the child to turn the page. That way, she can follow along as Mom or Dad reads the book even if Mom or Dad can’t be there.
Do you read aloud to your kids regularly? What tips would you add?