While working at the library the other day, I overheard a father reading a book aloud to his daughter, who was about two. As he tried to read, she would excitedly point at the pages and name the things she saw, like: “Frog! Frog!“. After a couple of pages of this happening, the Dad sighed, and closed the book. I then overheard a conversation between the child’s father and mother, in which he explained that since the little girl kept talking while he was reading, he didn’t believe she was listening, so he was frustrated and didn’t want to read anymore. The mother finally convinced him that the pointing to and naming of things actually meant their daughter was engaged in the book, and just excited about it, and he resumed story time with his daughter. (Who was delighted.)
This whole scenario made me realize that there must be parents out there who might have hesitation about reading to their children because of preconceived notions that a child should sit still and listen quietly. This is just not true. Sure, some kids will sit more still than others, and listen more attentively than others. And there really are times when a kid just can’t handle sitting down for a story and it should be abandoned until a later time. However, it is actually a good sign for a child want to point out the things they know, to ask questions about what is happening, or to make movements relating to the story. They also might want to flip back to hear the previous page again, or skip ahead to their favorite part of the book. All of this is perfectly normal, and in fact, shows a willingness to learn and an enthusiasm for being read to.
I suggest that in order to encourage children to become lifelong readers, some ideas might be helpful to remember, and I am sure all of us could brush up a little to fully relax and enjoy this special time with the children in our lives.
~Don’t force it. If your child gets up and runs off to play, just end the story. Be prepared for them to come back to it later. If you try to make them sit and stay until you are done, they might come to have negative feelings about story time. Also, just because a book was your favorite when you were little, doesn’t mean the same will be true for your child. It can be heartbreaking to realize this, especially when you spent time daydreaming of sharing the book with your child one day and then they want nothing to do with it. I’ve been there, and though it was hard, I eventually realized Simon does not share my love for The Lorax. (At least, not yet…)
~Let them be hands on. Have some books that are appropriate for their age down on their level and always accessible. For babies and toddlers who have not yet learned to be gentle with books, board books can be left out for them. Have at least one shelf down low that they can come to and grab from as they please. When reading to them, let them grab the book they want you to read.
~Change it up. If you have had the same ten books around for a while, maybe it is time for a trip to the library for a new selection. Children will have tried and true favorites, but it is also good to show them that there can be much variety in their reading selection.
~Choose from their interests. Find books for them based on things they like. For example, Simon is really into dinosaurs, so in addition to many picture books about them, I also checked a book out from the library for him that is a seriously thick, nonfiction book. I chose it though, because it had page after page of wonderful pictures, and because I thought Simon might like having a big, thick book like Mumma and Daddy. He is too little to want to listen to the words, or to appreciate facts about extinction and places where fossils were found, but he is happy just to sit and flip through the pictures. Instead of reading aloud, since it has no story and just information, I ask him to name the colors of the dinosaurs he sees, or we just make “Roar!” sounds together.
~Change the way you read the book. If you have been asked to read Goodnight Moon for the fifth time in a day, and it is getting to be too repetitive for your adult brain, try talking about the illustrations instead of reading the words. Or ask questions like: “Can you count how many kittens there are?“. This helps the child to take a deeper interest in the book, while breaking up the monotony for you.
~Be open to reading any time of day. Many families read before bed, but it is great to show your kids that reading is a fun thing to do any time. Some books are even better for more energetic times of the day. We have one, called Let’s Dance Little Pookie, that we all act out as a family, marching around, reaching for the sky, etc. as the characters in the book do it. Books like this turn story time into physical activity.
~Be silly. Make voices for the characters, even if they are completely ridiculous. If something in the book is supposed to be loud, read it in a loud voice, if the characters are sneaking around and whispering, read in a whisper. Make animal sounds with abandon. Really ham it up for your kids, and they will have a blast listening to you.
~Accept interruption. If they want to stop and talk about the red balloon in the picture, forget about the rest of the story, and pause as long as they want to talk about what they see or to answer questions. This can be tedious during the “What’s that?… What’s that?… What’s that?” phase or the “Why?… Why?… Why?” phase, but stick with it as much as possible in order to encourage their minds to absorb the world around them. (We are currently between these two phases, in this household, and are bracing ourselves for the Whys to hit.)
~Above all, try to relax. Reading with your kids should not make you feel stressed or impatient. Take advantage of the time to have them curled up with you, sharing in a story. Try to let go of your expectations and just have fun.