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We all know that reading to kids is good for them. Every parenting book, magazine, and blog talks about the benefits of reading out loud to your children. But unless you were a theatre major in university, you may not know HOW to read well out loud.
Maybe you stumble over words. Maybe you mumble in monotone. Maybe (gasp!) you don’t even realize that your reading out loud needs some improvement. :/
Whatever boat you fall into, this post will help you determine where you’re at, and what you can do to improve.
Why should you improve your dramatic reading skills? Because you want your children to listen when you read to them. It doesn’t really benefit them if you’re floundering your way through Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories while your preschooler is trying to put the cat in the toilet. They’re not getting much out of that.
Here are seven proven methods (I use all of these) to master reading out loud to children (or to anyone!).
This will definitely feel unnatural at first. We don’t typically speak slowly (although I am from Georgia…), so reading slower than a normal talking voice seems strange.
It also seems counterintuitive – like you will lose your reader’s attention if you don’t hurry. Obviously if you’re reading excessively slow, they will wonder what’s up. Don’t do that.
Reading slower will help prevent you from stumbling over words. It also allows your reader to understand more of what you’re saying. Children are still learning vocabulary, and it can take them longer to process than it may take an adult.
No need to rush through the story.
Pay attention to grammar
Some people seem to have this idea that grammar is just an annoying thing that must be learned in middle school and has no place in the real world. The truth is, we use grammar every day, even when we speak.
There are natural pauses between ideas. It doesn’t sound right to rush through everything in the same robotic manner. When people talk, they use grammar in their sentence structure.
But for some reason, one of the most common mistakes I see people make when it comes to reading out loud is ignoring the grammar. They like to pretend that commas don’t exist. Commas and periods are what make read-aloud stories sound natural and interesting.
Authors include them in their writing for a purpose.
Sometimes they want a dramatic pause.
Sometimes they want a build up.
Sometimes they want an explosion of thoughts.
All of these are indicated by the structure of their sentences and paragraphs. Read the story the way the author intended it to be read. You’ll notice the difference, and your kids will too.
Make use of your voice
Did you know your voice can do amazing things? It can whisper softly, or shout loudly. It can be high and squeaky, or low and deep. It can switch from a British accent to a Russian accent. It can sound happy or it can sound sad.
Just like people sound different in real life, characters in the stories you read also sound different. Pick different voices for major characters. Indicate with your voice whether a character is lonely, or excited, or surprised.
It can be a little daunting in front of a group of adults to imitate accents, or try out silly voices. Practice with your kids. Trust me, they will be so much more engrossed in the story if you do.
When you’re reading a story out loud to children, ask them questions! Not only does it keep them occupied, but it lets you know where they are at comprehension-wise.
Asking questions is your chance to find out how well your children are understanding the story. And if they didn’t quite grasp something, you can explain it to them. Help them appreciate the story so they will remain interested.
Let them ask questions
Kids are big question-askers. Any parent knows this.
Sometimes it gets annoying dealing with all of those questions, but consider that it’s a huge part of their learning process. Story time can be the perfect time for them to ask questions and learn new things.
If you don’t want them interrupting while you’re reading (totally understandable), maybe you could try designating a time at the end of each page, or at the end of the book, when they can ask you questions about the story to understand it better.
Allowing them to be involved really increases children’s enjoyment of story time.
Let children fill in the words
If you’re reading a repetitive book, a book your children are already familiar with, or a book with easy to recognize items, let the kids fill in the words!
For instance, whenever I read the book Green Eggs and Ham (if you don’t already own this book, please buy it using my link), I let the kids fill in the last part of the repetitive sentence “I do not like them ________…” “Sam I Am!”
This is another great way to involve them, and it also helps with word recognition.
Young children will begin to “read” books they are familiar with all by themselves, by looking at the pages they know and repeating the words out loud to themselves.
Each person reads out loud a little differently. Each person interprets the story a little differently. That’s okay. Don’t feel like you have to read the story just like grandpa did last Christmas. Read it the way you understand it.
Read confidently, and expressively. Don’t just use your voice to convey emotion. Use your facial expressions, and hand gestures. Draw children into the world you’re reading about.
Passion is contagious. When your readers see your enthusiasm for the story, they want to know what it is that has you so passionate. They will hang on your every word.