Some parents are reluctant to read aloud because they lack the confidence, find it intimidating, or just struggle to find the time. To help out – and in tandem with Read Aloud to a Child Week – Read to Them is sharing seven strategies to build confidence and help keep young listeners engaged.
Finding the time to read aloud from a picture book is a much different task than sitting down to read a novel. For one, a picture book can be read in one sitting while a novel – even a Sweet Spot title – will require multiple sessions. Deciding on a daily reading time with your family is one way to slowly, but surely make reading a priority. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or just before bed, by committing to reading aloud each day, you’ll soon find everyone is eager to hear what comes next in the story.
When approaching a read aloud, it’s so important to understand the tone of a book. What kind of themes does the story explore? What kind of language does it use? Is the protagonist bubbly and goofy or more reserved, inclined to a lot of internal dialogue? For The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, you might adopt a slower or even pensive reading style but for Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, you could slip into a warm, celebratory voice. Being flexible and adapting to each book can bring a read aloud to just the right level.
When reading aloud, have fun with the language in your book. During suspenseful sections… slow… down. Let the suspense… build. When there is a meaningful moment, pause to let the scene’s impact truly settle between you and your listener. (Pay attention to every mark of punctuation.) In Elana K. Arnold’s A Boy Called Bat, you wouldn’t want to rush through the scene where Bat is first able to meet his mother’s gaze and studies the color of her eyes. But you wouldn’t want to meander during a scene that’s bubbling over with joy and laughter, either. Think of reading aloud as a performance – and let the show begin!
Another wonderful thing about books? They offer a window into the lives of cultures, histories, and experiences that you and your listener may not be familiar with. Diving into Where the Mountain Meets the Moon will allow you to engage with Chinese folktales at the heart of Grace Lin’s novel. Stepping onto the pages of Joseph Bruchac’s Rez Dogs plants readers onto a Native American reservation and the unforgettable dynamics the people in this community share with one another. Having access to stories from a broad array of voices is so vital in nourishing your child’s sense of empathy and understanding. It also allows opportunities to explore moral or ethical questions as a family that might otherwise go unanswered without direct engagement.
Books – especially children’s literature – are vital in that they are safe places for young scholars to engage with a wide-range of emotions. Anger. Sadness. Joy. Frustration. A lot of young readers have their first brush with grief when Charlotte passes away and Wilbur reels in the wake of her absence in Charlotte’s Web. You don’t want those sort of opportunities to be lost, so understanding a scene and letting your voice reflect the emotion the scene demands will help create a more meaningful reading experience.
Reading aloud is a great opportunity to let loose and be silly. You’re engaging with the text – not reciting a monologue! Take the UK audiobook for the Harry Potter books for example. Stephen Fry gives the characters very distinct voices: Hagrid sounds gruff and low-toned, Dumbledore is airy but clear, and Hermione’s lines are spoken smartly, clipped to make her words sound exact and wise. With books that have sprawling casts, establishing these distinctions makes it easier for the reader to keep up. You can use mannerisms and dramatic pauses to keep readers immersed in the dialogue. It might be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort to make your story truly come alive.
It can be so easy to lose yourself in a book, so it’s worth taking a pause from time to time to ensure your listener is still with you. It won’t necessarily derail the story. Perhaps several new characters were introduced – use this moment to distinguish those characters from one another. It could be that the protagonist has arrived at a moment of internal conflict. Try having a brief dialogue about what your child might do in this situation or encourage your child to make a prediction about what choice the protagonist might make. Interact with your listener and enrich the reading experience for the both of you.
The important thing to keep in mind is this: reading aloud is not meant to be a chore. It’s about sharing stories, and embracing the togetherness that comes from diving into a book with someone you love. Have fun, be silly, and enjoy yourselves.