As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, you can guess that I did my fair share of reading picture books to young children. It was always one of my favorite things to do. And now I still love reading books to my four young grandsons.
At the start of the school year I had a “Guest Reader” sign-up sheet that welcomed parents or grandparents to come to the class and read a story that they had chosen from a book list I sent home. While I loved sharing my classroom with the adults that are important to my students, some readers plowed through the story and did little to engage the children. I learned that reading a picture book well takes a little thought and care. So here are some of my tips to help you become a story reading master!
1. Read the book to yourself first. This takes just a few minutes and can be done before you invite your child to hear the story. Being acquainted with the story line and the words will help you as you introduce the book as well as when you read the story.
2. Look at the cover of the book with your child before you start to read. This is like the appetizer before a meal! Ask your child to guess what the story could be about. This will grab his interest as he will be curious to see if he is right. Maybe you want to make a guess as well. I know that some children delight in finding inside the book the same or similar picture as the cover illustration.
3. Read the title, the author’s name and the illustrator’s name. Children can begin to know specific authors or illustrators and gravitate towards those that become special to them. I know that while I love most picture books, there are a few authors and illustrators who have become my favorites.
4. Ask your child a leading question that will keep him listening to the story. For example, in Kevin Henkes’ story Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, you might ask your child to discover what happens when Lilly takes this purse to school. In the story Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig, you might question your child about what makes the pebble magic and is this a good thing or not.
5. Read the story with expression. Use a conversational tone for dialog, and even change up the voices a bit if you are willing to try that. Read as though you were telling the story, not just reading words. Get excited when there is an exclamation point and raise the pitch of your voice when there is a question mark. You’d be surprised how tonal changes and an expressive voice can bring a story to life.
6. Try to read the story from start to finish without stopping. Authors take a great deal of care in choosing their words and putting them on the page. The rhythm of these words as well as the building storyline can get lost when the story is stopped for a side conversation. So, if possible, save the discussion with your child about the book until you are finished reading.
7. Go back and discuss interesting aspects of the story. Now is the time for an in-depth discussion of the book. Ask your child for his reaction to the story. Did he like it? What was his favorite part? Discuss the feelings and actions of the characters in the story. Does your child agree with the actions? What would he have done in the same situation?
8. Look carefully at the illustrations. Do any of the pictures give clues to what is going to happen next? What was his favorite illustration? This is an opportunity for your child to practice some visual discrimination skills! Can he find specific objects in the picture?
Reading a picture book to a young child can be a wonderful opportunity to share a special time and also to learn about characters, feelings and situations.
Renee Abramovitz is a a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who retired in 2008 to become a “full-time grandma” to her four beautiful grandsons. She is passionate about the idea that all parents are their child’s first and most important teacher and strives to give parents the tools and confidence they need to successfully work with their children at home. Renee shares tips for working with young children at www.schoolsparks.com where she offers a free kindergarten readiness test parents can take to assess their child’s readiness to start school plus hundreds upon hundreds of free kindergarten worksheets for parents to use at home with their children.