Here are a few tricks and tips to making reading more enjoyable for you and most importantly, your child.
Parents have asked me for tips about how to read to child. Often, parents think their child may not be interested in books at all or that they just can’t focus. For many parents, the answers may come easy, but for plenty of others, they do not.
Let’s start with a very basic question – If you were a toddler, how would you want someone to read to you?
How does a reading like this sound?
- quick read
- no excitement
- no engagement
- forceful reading
- a parent that thinks it’s too much work
I don’t know about you but for me, this sounds a ton better:
- soft excitement (soft “oohs”, and “awes”)
- changing voices with different characters
- making sound effects (bangs, creaks)
- being silly
- role playing afterwards
- a physical engagement
- a mental connection from a spoken word to a picture
- excitement from a parent
- blind reads from a bed or in the car
Although, I don’t expect to have all the answers, I believe if you started out like I did, we’d have pretty similar results. If you’ve resulted to ipads more than physical books since they were a baby, it may be a different ball game but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy books! For us, ipad time is a treat and can be done as a reward. So, how have a read books with my child?
0-4 Months Old
Don’t teach. Talk. And there is no need to speak in long winded sentences.
For being a baby, you only need to give them soft books to enjoy. Let them chew on them, and feel them. Buy them a good black and white book as the contrast really helps. Get them some soft books with crinkle paper inside so they can hear it crackle. Just because your baby is a baby, it doesn’t mean they aren’t learning.
Constantly talk to them. When you hand them a book, tell them a few times that it’s a book. I used Sign Language by mimicking my hands together as a book by opening and closing them. With a noise book, when they crinkle it up, give a gasp or awe, and say, “Woooow, listen, it’s making a noise.” Everything you do with your child can be verbally connected at the same time. They will understand what a book is before they can even say it. Just speak verbally about things as you do them. You don’t need to talk about the past or what you will be doing tomorrow. That would be pointless. They need a connection that meets the physical and verbal. You can do it with eating too. For example, you’re feeding them an apple. You tell them it’s an apple. Then, let them eat the apple, tell them, “Yummmy, apple. Do you like apple?” Most parents already do this with food, but you can start to do this with books too once they can hold their heads up.
That being said, don’t overstimulate and change it up. You are not “teaching” them. You are just connecting two points to a puzzle, and each time you bring out the same book or a book with the same image, you are reasserting that those two points connect. Turn the pages, talk about each page and go at a decent pace for the child to enjoy, and not feel overwhelmed. If they are bored, then put it down for a while.
5-8 Months Old
Lap reading, pointing, and adding a few more sentences.
Your child is now able to hold up their heads when you sit them on your lap. They seem to want to look around at every one and everything. This is a great opportunity to get some board books with simple pictures. Buy the ones with textures and shiny things or anything that gets the motor senses going.
Sit them down on your lap and pull out a board book. How would you feel if someone just opened it, read words and closed it? Boring, right? There is so much more to the experience. But in my opinion, one of the most important things to do is to hold one of their hands in yours, and mold the child’s hand in a pointer position. You can put the middle to the pinky fingers down, leaving the index up pointing with your help.
As you read the word, circle the entire object. Talk about the color, the texture, what the object might do, what it might sound like or smell like. If they turn the page on their own, let them. The more you sound excited, the more they will wonder why it’s exciting. Again, don’t be overly excited. Just give a soft, “Awwwwe, look at that! It’s red. Pretty pretty red.” If they are focused, continue. Have them point to red on their shirt or something in the house. Make some soft sound effects, but again, there is no need to overstimulate. Sound out a crunching apple, or the wind blowing in the trees. When it’s food, I always pretend to grab some and eat it and let them pretend. If they are eating soft foods, this will make a lot of sense to them. Speak softly, even if you gasp or awe, you can do it in a soft voice. After all, you aren’t trying to frighten the child, you are just showing enthusiasm for how cool words and objects are.
Later, you’ll be able to ask them about objects in the book, and they may be pointing them out in no time.
8 Months to 1.5 Years
Step it up. Get some fun picture books and bring it down to there level. They can get something new from each time you read it.
By 8 months of reading, your child may be able to enjoy looking at more story driven books. I like to start off with the story books similar to the worded board books. Sit the child on your lap and make her a pointer finger. If they pull away, don’t force them. Use your own finger, and come back to theirs later. See if they are interested in pointing then. Talk about it all. Let’s take The Very Hungry Caterpillar for example. We could just read it in a boring monotone quickly, but where’s the fun in that? How about for the first time, talk about the caterpillar being small, and hungry. Give it a voice, “I want to eat”, and make some munching sound while putting fingers to your mouth. Let the child eat the apple, and other fruit from the book. What does it sound like as it crawls, “Pugee, pugee, pugee.” Talk about the sun and it being big, warm and bright. Talk about it all.
The second reading, probably another day, you can try giving it a read through. Change your voice and give the caterpillar some lines. “Oh, I’m so hungry”, or “I’m full”, or “I have a tummy ache”. There’s no reason you can’t expand on any of it or take any of it out.
This goes for any book. You can shorten it and bring it down to their level. If you are on a page, and they want to move forward, move forward. My child and I looked through Jumanji at a young age, but I talked about the animals and the game, and probably didn’t read much of what was written. Just make sure you keep using their pointer finger if they’ll let you. As the rhinos crash through the wall, make an explosion, “Look out, run! The rhinos are coming!” You don’t need to get too detailed in long winded sentences. When reading the snake, you can make your arm into one slithering around.
From 1.5 Years on
Continue at their pace but progress.
From 1.5 years on, continue moving forward at their pace. They may not need you to hold their pointer finger any more but you can always try. You’ll want to continue to make reading enjoyable by adding noises, changing voices, and talk about the little things in the book.
As the child can speak, start to role play. Start to memorize books and recite them when something pops up like a toy or stuffed animal. Make jingles, chants, and sing songs.
Before, I would read it with easier words that my child knew, but as she got older I would bring in the new vocabulary and tell her what it meant.
Just a week ago, she said that her little bear was petrified. It was a word from Mouses Book of Fears, and we hadn’t read it in months. She was just turning three years old.
What kinds of books do I recommend?
Good books! Okay, a good book is definitely subjective. I recommend soft, chewing books for the babies. Then you don’t have to worry about it being destroyed. Then I recommend nice board books with they get a little older – board books with something fun, interactive, and engaging. Let them keep those in their room. During the board book time, teach them to respect books. Don’t stand on them and through them, or they’ll break. My daughter did break her first board book, but after explaining it a few times, she’s learned to really respect her books. I kept paper books separate from my daughters board books. While reading paper books, I woud use her fingers to turn the pages carefully and tell her, “carefully, and slowly. We don’t want to rip them.” I would make sure she wouldn’t grab corners forcefully, and if she did, I would hold her arm and turn with her and tell her, “Be careful, it can rip.” I remember a time or two when she wasn’t, I would stop reading, she’d cry, and I’d explain a little to her about treating books nicely, and we’d go back to reading.
When choosing my books, I tend to look for artwork that captures my eyes, and again, taste in art is subjective. After that, I’ll open a book and see the artwork inside. If it maintains the quality of the cover, I’ll check out how many words there are. If it seems too long winded, I may put it back right then. If not, I’ll read what the story is about. If I like the story, then, I’ll probably buy it. If I don’t agree with the message, it’s a coin toss, as it will heavily rely on how much I love the artwork. I am not a fan of “I’m a princess” messages or “women need to be rescued by a handsome prince.” That being said, I did buy a Rapunzel with amazing pictures. But I also laughed and told my daughter it was pretty silly, and the reason why it was silly.
I’m not one to let awards or famous authors be my deciding factor. I do have my favorite authors/illustrators list but I have found some amazing books at thrift stores that I wouldn’t have ever found had I just kept to the famous author list.
BUT THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP
The most important tip I can give is just to enjoy reading time with your child. If you act like reading is going to be a chore, then so will the child. If you are a parent that feels this way, you probably need an attitude change and some self-reflection on what it means to be a parent because guess what? Your child is forever changing, and with each age comes struggles but also a ton of enjoyment. Just think, in a blink of an eye, you could miss out on half a life.
The moment your child is born, they are connected by the umbilical chord. As soon as that chord is severed, they are forever growing away from you. As they get older, they’ll want less time with you and more time with friends. One day, they’ll be moving out.
I’ve loved being a father. Of course I want more me time, but I also want to be there for my kiddos as much as I can. Enjoy the struggles and for crying out loud, enjoy reading time.