5 Tips to Get Started Reading to Your Kids

So, as I’ve posted quite a bit about reading, there came two questions via email. The first was about readiness (I am preparing a post about that topic…still working on it…busy week), and the second question was this one:

I want to read to my children, as you said. How do you do it? My children won’t sit still, become bored, and restless when I try to read anything but the simplest picture books. Help!

Here are some thoughts I have on that topic:

1. Work towards getting your children to be attentive, but don’t focus on that so much that you lose the “flow” of what you are reading, or that it becomes something to dread.

What I mean is, if you are reading like this:

“Once upon a time — Johnny, you sit down now! I told you, we’re reading a story — there lived — I mean it, sit down — a princess — Susie, stop poking your brother—“

that’s not very interesting or fun to listen to. Lay the ground rules at the start (hands to yourself, no making noise, etc.) but for young children that are starting to listen to longer books aloud, don’t expect them to sit perfectly still right from the start.

Instead, focus on trying to be interesting, and engaging with your reading, and they will pay better attention from then on because they won’t want to miss anything, once they realize how enjoyable it is to be read to.

2. Don’t stop until it gets interesting

Most of the time, chapters cut off right at the good parts, to leave you wanting to keep reading. Some older books (such as”The Secret Garden”, which we recently re-read) start off a bit slow and even sad.The Secret Garden is a great book, but the first two or three chapters are real downers.

Try to read until it gets good, and you find a good place to stop for the day. This way they will be asking for more tomorrow.

3. Don’t completely forsake picture books

Picture books are often more interesting to the young on than to older children, and listening to you read from novels and other chapter books builds attention spans, but read-aloud from picture books is still interesting and enjoyable for young children.

There are some that still bring a smile to my face, especially The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Classic.

4. Find Interesting Books

Not everything that is called a “classic” is interesting to a 21st-century child, or even easily understandable.

Be prepared, especially with older books or books written in another culture, to give some explanation while reading. Some are pretty hard to get into, and some will shock your sensibilities with the free flowing racist language that was acceptable in those days.

My daughter was shocked reading Elsie Dinsmore, and then there’s the liberal use of the “n” word in Mark Twain’s books. Sherlock Holmes, in the unabridged books, uses cocaine often; Many classic heroes and heroines own slaves, to name a few problems you may find in the “classics”.

One of the benefits of reading aloud is editing offensive language as you read, or taking the time to explain a cultural difference. We had a lot of cultural explanations when we read Tales from the Arabian Nights, but the stories were very interesting, most are familiar to some degree or another (Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves).

A good children’s librarian is worth her weight in gold as far as book recommendations go.We have enjoyed some great books that ours has pointed us to.

Get referrals from friends as well.

For the record, “Unabridged” means the book is as the author originally wrote it. “Abridged” means it has been shortened, and the reading level may have also been lowered in some cases.

5. Make it an event

The other day, my daughter Ruth was rummaging through our tea cabinet, and noted that we needed more of the Weihnachtsman Tea, which a friend in Germany sends me, and she said, “I always think of The Chronicles of Narnia when I smell this tea, because when we first got this tea, you were reading those books to us, and we’d all have a cup of tea while we listened.”

Could I tell you what kind of tea we were drinking when we read a certain book? Probably not, but it made a big impression on my daughter!

I’m not sure how it started, but I know it wasn’t on purpose. We had a routine that developed for me reading to the kids. I’m not so together that I’d decide this all out; this just happened.

We fell into a routine of making a pot of chai tea or fruit tea, or Weihnachtmann Tea (a fruity-mint tea), or some other kind of tea, and drinking out of the fancy cups while listening to me read. After a few times of doing this, soon the children insisted that we couldn’t read until the tea was made, the cups were out, and so forth.

The point isn’t really so much about tea, but about a routine, or a tradition, an event, where reading together is seen as something special, a special part of the day.

More on Reading

I’m pretty big on reading…reading with my kids, reading for fun, reading to learn. To read other posts on the topic of reading, check out the reading archive here, which includes thoughts, tips, and some designs and tools for readers.

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