How To Read To Your Young Child

How To Read To Your Young Child

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Most parents are well aware of the value of reading aloud to young children. When they are read lots of good stories, children fall in love with books and become lifelong readers. Yet parents can go further and turn passive listening into involved participation, just by using a few reading tricks. 

Use the illustrations – as you read, you can ask your child questions about them. For instance, “Look at his face. How is he feeling?” or “Look at the yellow hat on Curious George. Is it too big or too small?” “How many animals are in the picture?” 

Ask for predictions and analysis – “What do you think is going to happen next?” “What can the character do to solve his problem?” “What mistake did he make?” “What should he have said, or done?” 

Act rather than just read – Vary your voice to suit the character; the wolf, the grandma, the baby, the giant, all speak in different voices. Say loud words loudly. Drop your voice to a whisper occasionally. Call for help in a frightened voice. Make the sounds of a door creaking open, of the wind in the trees, of the creep, creep, creep of footsteps. Read slowly sometimes and fast at other times. Use pauses to build suspense. Slow down the last line: “and…they… lived…happily…ever…after.” “What…a…nice…place…for…George…to…live.” Don’t be afraid to be expressive. At least you won’t fall asleep while reading to your young child. 

And instead of dreamily listening while twirling hair or sucking a thumb, your child will become an active and excited participant in the stories you are reading. As your reading comes alive, so will your child’s brain light up with thoughts and feeling. 

Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years experience in reading to young children. Some of her thoughts on reading aloud were inspired by a workshop given by renowned author, Mem Fox.

This was Marianne’s first column ever, originally published in October 2014.