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The Informed Parent

Reading With Children

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Jul. 04, 2005

There is nothing like a good story to captivate the imagination. Children, adolescents, and adults enjoy being transported to another realm through the words of a well-written and well-read story.

Curling up with a good book brings pleasure and relaxation. Listening to and watching a good reader or storyteller elicits excitement. Listeners become immersed in the story without having to be good readers themselves.

Sometimes parents think that their children would rather watch a movie or TV show instead of listening to them read a story. Rarely is this the case. Reading to children offers them so much more that just the story itself. It provides a time for intimacy. When parents read to their children, they are often in physical contact. Children cuddle up to the parent as they listen to the story and look at the pictures. They interrupt the story with conversation around the events or pictures. Often at the end of a chapter, a child says, “Just one more. Pleeeease!” If the book is short, the request becomes, “Read it again.”

There are some tricks that make reading a story extra special. The following ideas may assist you in becoming the kind of reader that looks forward to story time as much as your children do.

1. Start Early And Stay Late

Begin using books with your children when they are very young. A baby as young as six or seven month can enjoy large colorful pictures. He will like hearing your voice as you talk about them. He will want to pull on the book and put it in his mouth. That’s okay. Cloth and heavy cardboard books or board books are made for babies and toddlers. Introducing story time early encourages a life-long interest in books.

Toddlers are ready for some very, very short stories. Books that have one sentence per page are good for children this young. Large, colorful pictures intrigue young children.

By the time children are preschoolers they are interested in short stories. They want to participate in the reading. After you have read the story several times, begin slowing down at the end of sentences so that they can add the words. “Sammy walked very, very...” If you hesitate just a moment, the child will yell out “slowly!” with great glee. Before long, he will be telling the story right along as you read it.

School age children love chapter books. They are ready for more complicated story lines with numerous characters. There are many excellent choices on the market for children from kindergarten through early adolescence. The Newbery books are award-winners with stories that adults enjoy as much as children.

Early adolescents are ready for young adult novels. Many of these books have good story lines with thought-provoking issues at the core. They provide excellent opportunities to discuss real life situations with young teens. Sometimes parents think that sixth, seventh and eighth graders, the middle schoolers, are too old to be read to. If you had not spent reading time with them before it may be too late. However, if reading aloud has been a part of your family structure young adolescents will enjoy it as much as they did when they were younger.

Older teens generally do not want to be read to. Try reading the same book your teen is currently reading. It will offer the opportunity for meaningful discussion. Again, if sharing books has not been part of your family history, conversing about books at this stage may not work well. If sharing reading time is an ongoing part of the family, this serves as a nice transition from reading to the children.

2. Set Aside A Time Of Day For Reading

Stay-at-home parents often read to their children more than once a day. Working parents have to find a time that fits with everyone’s schedule. Just before going to bed is an excellent time. Children are calmed and ready for sleep. Story time closes the day on a positive note. Choose a quiet place. A large, comfortable chair, the couch, or the child’s bed offer cozy spaces. Using the same reading time and space each day tells the mind that this is a time for quiet focusing.

3. Choose The Stories Your Children Want

Children usually have favorites. It may be a story you have read to them or one they heard at school or in story hour at the library. While adults may like constant change, children prefer familiarity. They enjoy hearing the same stories over and over. They like learning the words so that they can participate in the reading.

If you are a new parent or are unfamiliar with the kinds of stories to choose, there are numerous resources. Children’s librarians provide a wealth of information to parents. They know the best-liked books as well as those that are newly published. They are eager to assist you in finding just the right story for your children.

Personnel who work in the children’s section of bookstores can lead you to the currently popular books as well as the beloved classics. They are versed in age-appropriate stories for preschoolers through adolescents.

4. Be Dramatic

Children love having you portray the voices of the various characters. They like dramatic pauses and suspenseful tones that lead up to action. Don’t be afraid that you will make a mistake or appear silly. You won’t! Think about how you enjoy listening to a book on tape, a story on NPR, or listening to a good speaker tell a story as part of the speech. You become captivated when it is dramatically presented. Your children will respond to you in the same way. No one likes to listen to a dull tone of voice. For story time at its best, take the leap and become theatrical.

Lots of times parents forget the voice they’ve used for a particular person or animal. Don’t worry. Your children will remind you of what the character sounded like!

Reading to children and young teens, and having discussions about books with older teens lends richness to family life that cannot be duplicated. It provides intimate moments and offers the opportunity to learn about how your children think. It models a family value--that of education and reading. To top it off, reading with children is fun!

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