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Family Read Aloud Strategies for All Readers

If you’ve never done it before, reading aloud to your child can seem like an intimidating task. Families may feel overwhelmed or lack the confidence to read aloud. They may struggle to find the time in their busy daily lives. We at Read to Them want folks with all read aloud experiences – from seasoned readers to those who may be picking up their first book– to feel empowered and excited when they sit down to read as a family. 

Take a few minutes to check out seven strategies to build confidence, to help keep your young readers engaged, and to make reading aloud a part of your family’s life! 

1. Take advantage of the little opportunities the day presents to read aloud together: while making dinner, running errands, or carpooling to after school activities. 

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 Trends Younger 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 each story. 

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2. Some books ask for a quiet reading style while others call for a more lively presentation of the story. Adapt your reading to the tone of each book. 

When approaching a read aloud, it’s 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 Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, you might adopt a slower or even pensive reading style. For a book like Fenway & Hattie by Victoria Coe, you could slip into a silly, energetic  voice. Being flexible and adapting to each book can really bring a read aloud to life! 

3. Vary your rhythm to keep the text engaging for the reader and to help focus your listener’s attention. Slow down… Pause… Whisper.

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 make eye contact with his mother. But you wouldn’t want to meander during a scene that’s bubbling over with joy and laughter, either, like in Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine. Think of reading aloud as a performance – and let the show begin! 

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4. Use your selected book as an opportunity to foster empathy and emotional intelligence in your child. 

Another wonderful thing about books? They offer a window into lives, 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 the Chinese folktales at the heart of Grace Lin’s novel. Stepping onto the pages of Lisa Cline-Ransome’s Finding Langston plants readers in Chicago during the Great Migration and the power one young boy finds in exploring his namesake’s poetry. 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 provides opportunities to explore moral or ethical questions as a family that might otherwise go unanswered without direct engagement.

5. When reading aloud, mirroring the emotions felt by the characters will make the story more meaningful to your listener. 

Books – especially children’s literature – are vital 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 E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. You don’t want to miss these opportunities, so understanding a scene and letting your voice reflect the emotion of the scene will help create a more meaningful reading experience. 

6. Don’t be afraid to use accents, funny voices, and sound effects to make reading aloud more engaging. Specific voices for each character will help listeners follow the dialogue. 

Reading aloud is a great opportunity to let loose and be silly. You’re engaging with the text – not reciting a monologue! Take The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el, for instance. Each character has their own personality and interests, giving each a distinct voice: Duane the friendly polar bear sounds quite different from the self important Major Lieutenant Puff. With books that have a  sprawling casts, tonal distinctions make it easier for the reader to keep up. You can use mannerisms and dramatic pauses to keep readers immersed in the dialogue.

7. Stay engaged with your listener by explaining unfamiliar vocabulary words, discussing an important point, or asking your child to make a prediction. 

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It can be 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. Perhaps several new characters have been 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.

Ultimately, the most 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. You’ve got this! 

Do you have any other reading tips you think families should know? Share them with us in the comments. Happy reading!

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