Making the Most of Story Time: Tips for Reading to Young Children
Lifelong learning starts at home. I was thinking about this last weekend as my mom and I discussed good books we’ve read and what we’re going to read next. Books have been a part of my life since before I could read. There are few greater things than reading to a small child and seeing their excitement and anticipation of what the next page in the book holds.
Reading to children from a young age is tremendously important for the development of their language and literacy skills. These skills set the foundation for their future success in school and in society. Even for babies, reading out loud is critical, as they begin to understand language well before than can talk or read on their own. A lot is going on in those little brains! Of course, many of you have heard these facts before and you know just how important reading is. Yet, sometimes it can be hard to know the best ways to engage children with books.
Here are some tips for taking story time with your kiddo to the next level:
Schedule story time every day. Reading should be a regular part of child’s life, but like anything else, if it’s not part of the routine it’s not as likely to happen. Make story time part of your child’s bedtime routine, even if it’s just one book each night. Reading is a relaxing activity that can help your child wind down from the day and ease him/her into sleep. Your child will look forward to this quality time with you each night.
Find the right books. For infants and children up to age 2, look for books that involve the senses—those with big bright pictures, textures, and sounds. Help your baby experience the book by helping her touch the pages and textures. Describe what she’s feeling (soft, squishy, bumpy, etc.). For older toddlers, pick out books with simple plots and colorful illustrations. Make a trip to the library and allow your child to pick something out. Look for books that align with their interests to keep them engaged. If your child is getting bored, try a book that’s a little more challenging or one with a longer plot.
Ask questions! Rather than simply reading through the story, ask your child questions as you go. For younger children, ask things like “What do you see on the page?” “How many animals are there?” “What colors can you find?” For older children, ask them questions about the story: “What do you think the book will be about?” “What will happen next?” “How do you think the cat is feeling now?” “Why did Mr. Rabbit hide the carrot?” “What was your favorite part of the story?” Asking questions keeps the child engaged and promotes their critical thinking skills.
Show your enthusiasm. Your child is looking to you for what to do. Chances are, if you show that you are excited about reading, your child will be excited about books too. Use different voices for different characters and big facial expressions as though you are acting out the book. Tell your child how fun it is to read with them each night and that you can’t wait for tomorrow’s story.
Happy reading! You and your kiddo have so many book adventures ahead. If you’re looking for some great reads, here are some of my favorites:
Go Away, Big Green Monster by Edward R. Emberley
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
The Mixed-Up Chameleon by Eric Carle
The Secret Birthday Message by Eric Carle
The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood
Jenna Barnes, M.Ed has served children, youth, and families as a behavioral health clinician, researcher, community advocate, and parent coach. She currently works as an Extension Associate/Program Coordinator for the Very Important Parents program at NC State University to develop and implement parent education resources and trainings for young parents and community members that work with them.