Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.
Encouraging children to read and appreciate books is one of the greatest gifts you can give in terms of accelerating development and inspiring life-long learning. Children who are read to regularly have a proven leg up when they start school, and studies have shown that the number of books in a child’s home has a direct correlation on their educational advancement and future earning potential. But how do you make reading both fun and engaging?
Here at Elephant Books we regularly review some of the most compelling research and best practices on reading development. Each month we distill what we’ve learned into Reading Tips that we send out for parents alongside our picture and board books.
We’ve set out below 26 of our favorite reading tips from past months. They represent some of our best suggestions about how to make reading more fun and engaging with your little one!
26 Tips for Making Reading Fun
- “What if”s
Encouraging imagination during a read aloud is always a great way to dive deeper into a book. It prompts your child to reflect and think more critically about the contents of a story. During a readaloud, ask your child to imagine “what if…?”
During the read, you can ask “what if” questions as a way to predict what’s going to happen next. For example, you can ask them what they think would happen if the character did or said something different.
At the end of the book, you can ask them to imagine alternative endings. You could also wonder what might happen if the book had a sequel.
2. Go Beyond The Text
Sometimes, it can be fun to play author and imagine new parts in a story. You can add in sentences or words in addition to what is written on the page and mix things up!
You might elaborate on a certain topic that your child finds confusing to add more context or information. You might also add in certain things that you know your child enjoys to pique their interest and get them more engaged with the book.
This can be a great way to get yourself animated and creative while reading, which always helps to get your child interested in the book. It is also a great way to bond together—you can both be silly and just enjoy your time together. Expanding beyond the text can also help promote a greater understanding of the book by expanding on a confusing topic or word or customizing the story to your child’s experiences and interests.
3. Encourage Communication
Many younger children will make noises and try to mimic you as you read. Encourage these sounds! These babbles are the first steps towards communication, and the more practice your baby can get the better. Try repeating the sounds or saying them slowly so that your baby can pick them up more easily.
For older children, encourage them to ask questions or make comments as you read. You can ask them if there is something they don’t understand or if they have any thoughts about what’s happening in the book. This deeper engagement will help them to better understand the book, to develop greater critical thinking skills, and to expand their vocabulary.
4. Act It Out
If your child doesn’t like to sit for long, take advantage of their energy! Get them to act out the story or emulate the characters’ actions. This is a great way to get them engaged with the book while also staying active.
It’s great for calm readers too! It encourages them to be creative and dive deeper into the story.
After you read, you can ask your child to act out what happened in the story—this will encourage them to reflect on what happened and think more deeply about the book.
You can even have your child act the book out while you’re reading. As you read the text, ask your child to create physical motions that they think correspond to what you’re reading. This encourages a lot of creativity and engagement!
5. Give Your Full Attention
One of the best ways to get your child excited about a book is to show that you’re engaged. As a parent, you serve as a role model. If your child sees that you enjoy reading and see it as something worthy of dedicating time to, they will come to view it the same way.
So, during your designated or impromptu reading time, put away other distractions if possible. Set aside your phone or your laptop and get fully immersed in a fantastic book.
By granting your full focus, you can create the expectation that reading time is valuable and worth setting aside time for. Your child will always remember this special time together.
6. Picture Walk
Before you begin a book, take a little stroll through the pictures. Open the book and take a cursory glance at each page. Make note of anything in particular that stands out or that might be essential to the book.
Ask your child to make predictions about what will happen in the story based purely on what they saw in the pictures. You might ask them to think about what traits the characters might have, what the problem in the story will be, where the story seems to take place, or how they think the story will end.
After you finish the book, talk about whether or not any of your predictions or guesses turned out to be true.
Overall, taking a picture walk is a great way to get your child excited about the book they are about to read. It also encourages creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking about the story.
Character development sketches from Sophy Henn’s Where Bear.
7. Be interactive . . . ask questions!
From a very early age it is important to ask questions before, during and after reading a book.
Point out the cover of the book and ask your child what they think the book will be about (predicting).
At a critical point of a story see if they can tell you how the main character is feeling (inferring).
Are they happy, sad, or tired and how do we know this? If a character is depicting a strong emotion, identify that emotion and ask your child if he or she has ever felt that way (connecting).
And at the end of the book, discuss your earlier predictions and see if any came true (summarizing).
Asking questions during story-time is a great way to promote and increase reading comprehension.
8. Let the Child Decide
This is more than just letting the child pick the book; he or she should be able to decide how the book is read. For example, your young reader may not want to read a book from beginning to end. That’s okay. Flip back and forth or jump ahead if they can’t wait to get to a favorite page or picture.
Encourage the child to turn the pages so they are in control of the story and take your cues from them. If they want to switch to a different book half way through a story, then go with it.
Kids who explore books in ways that interest them will get more out of the experience.
9. Letter Sounds
As your child starts learning letters, help them understand the sounds each letter makes. Sound out letters of the characters or objects in a book.
For example, if there is a bear in a book, point it out. Say something like, “Look at this, I found a letter that is in your name! Bear! Bbbbb – bear, just like Bbbbb – Billy!” Ask your child to think of other words that begin with that letter.
Colors offer a great opportunity to further engage a child in a story. Whether the story describes a color or a unique picture shows a specific color, encourage the child you’re reading the book with to:
Identify objects around them that are of the same color.
Name animals, food, or toys with a similar color.
Pretend they could have anything they wanted in that color. What would it be?
Fun, interactive conversations about concepts like color help accelerate understanding, spark imagination, and make the reading experience even more entertaining and memorable.
11. Give Everything a Name
Early comprehension skills can be reinforced while reading by specifically pointing out and identifying the objects that appear in a book. Ask your child what the pictures in the book are and what activities they depict. Direct their attention to details in the illustrations or objects that may not be explicitly mentioned in the text.
Encourage their involvement as participants in understanding the story, so they’re not just passive listeners but active “co-readers” themselves. Make reading time interactive!
12. Make the Story Alive
Reading is about interaction and conveying an experience. When reading with a child, use voices for different characters, be expressive with the story, and always take the opportunity to react to what’s happening and the emotions the story evokes—laughter, sadness, concern, happiness, etc.
Making the story real and emotive is what makes it engaging. The variation helps draw kids in and keep their attention. If you find reading fun and entertaining—a real “three dimensional” experience—your child will too.
13. Learning Letters
Early reading is a great way for children to start learning the alphabet, distinguishing between individual letters, and understanding and associating them with words.
Whether it’s their name, a sibling, a pet or even “Mom” or “Dad,” books are a great way to start connecting how letters form words.
Point out the first letter of the child’s name wherever you see it while reading. Eventually, move on to other names with which they are familiar to progress their comprehension.
14. Don’t Stop When the Story is Over
Sometimes the true value of reading begins when the story itself has ended. Don’t assume that just because you’ve closed the cover that the learning has finished.
Give children time to reflect on what they have just read. Ask them to describe their favorite part and to explain why it was their favorite. Help children understand links between the events in the story and their own lives. “Have you ever felt that way?” “How would you feel?” “What would you do?”
Processing what has been discussed and explored in a story leads to a deeper level of understanding. This is a key step in helping build a child’s long-term critical thinking.
15. Words & Letters Everywhere
It’s a great idea to point out words when reading stories together, but also make sure to identify words and letters in everyday life. Reading isn’t just about sitting down with a good book. Talk about the words you see in the world around you.
If your children are younger, have them tell you the first letter of a word they see. As they grow older, see if they can recognize words in restaurants, on a cereal box, or even just waiting at a stop light.
You may want to approach it as a game. Their introduction to words and language should always be fun, and this is a simple way to engage.
16. Making Reading a Habit
Establishing a special time and place for kids to read can be useful in making reading a lifetime habit. We like to think of it in terms of a place, a time, and a frame of mind.
Place: Choose a spot that’s comfortable and familiar. It might be in the child’s bed, curled in a favorite chair, or next to the bookcase. Just make it someplace they recognize and associate with reading.
Time: Reading is often a great wind-down activity, something we associate with bedtime or naptime. Create regularity around reading at certain times during the day. This makes it easier to set expectations in anticipation of storytime.
Frame of Mind: Infants and toddlers are naturally full of energy! Reading requires focus. Through repetition and ritual, begin setting the expectation that this is a moment to listen and engage.
17. Get Story Time Off to the Right Start
The time before you start reading can be as important as story time itself. It helps set the tone, gives children time to settle, and prepares them to listen.
Allowing your child to select the book and the location where you’re going to read is often a good start. Ask your child what he or she thinks the book will be about based on the cover and title. If it is a book you have read previously, ask your child what part they are most looking forward to reading.
These simple pre-activities help set up the habit of reading and make the experience itself more engaging.
18. Embrace the Unexpected
We like to say a book has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A younger child may not necessarily want to progress in that order!
Avoid the urge to enforce one way of reading. If the child is persistent about quickly turning pages, starting in the middle, or asking many questions… embrace it! These are all forms of active learning.
Encourage your child to explore the physical book. Let their questions guide how quickly you get through the story.
19. Reading is a Conversation, Not a Solo Performance
Think of reading “with” not reading “to” your child. He or she should be an active participant during story time.
Whether you discuss the illustrations, count objects, point out letters and basic words, or have a conversation about the meaning of the book, make sure your child is not just a passive audience. These “unscripted moments” are really when learning occurs.
From infant. . . to toddler. . . to pre-schooler, the nature of this engagement will change. Thinking about reading as a discussion helps maximize its developmental impact.
20. Reading Time Is Favorite Time
Just like you tell your child how much you love them . . .tell them how much you love to read with them! When they know reading makes you happy, it helps foster a love of books in them. Your enjoyment is infectious.
Similarly, when we talk about modeling good behaviors, reading is no different. Kids emulate and find important the things that the adults around them value. In the case of books, let them know that you as an adult like to read and make sure they know about it and see it when you are reading.
Letting them know you value the time you spend with them reading and showing them how much you love reading yourself are both positive reinforcements. They convey the specialness of the activity and the time shared.
21. Make Connections
Try to build a bridge between what you and your child read and things that are happening in real life. Creating these links helps encourage retention and memory of concepts and ideas.
For example, if you just read a story about a dog, point out all the dogs you see and talk about them: How big? What color? What would be a good name? Make up a new story together about the dog.
These connections provide children with background knowledge about their young world, which helps them make sense of what they see and hear as they grow and develop.
Lazy Dave by Jarvis.
22. Tricks to Expand Attention Spans
Toddlers can have even shorter attention spans than babies. At times it can be challenging to keep them interested. Here are a few tips:
Seek out books about things your toddler especially enjoys to build enthusiasm.
Find short and simple books if necessary.
Read a little bit, several times a day.
Ask questions during reading time to keep them engaged.
Don’t stress if it just isn’t working and try again later
23. The Child as Storyteller
One of the great things about building a library of books is that kids love to read them over and over again. In fact, they often reach a point where they’ve memorized the story themselves.
If that’s the case in your house, embrace it. Let the child tell the story back to you, engaging their imagination, creativity, and memory in interpreting what they’ve heard and learned.
The idea here is that you’re moving children from passive listeners to active participants. They’re becoming the storytellers themselves in recounting the tales in front of them.
24. The Value of Pre-Reading
Reading with children isn’t just about telling a story. It’s about engaging all of their senses, firing up their thinking, and encouraging their imagination and cognitive skills.
One way to encourage this is to take advantage of pre-reading. Before beginning, spend some time on the cover. For younger children explain a little bit about the story they’re about to read. For older kids, ask them to tell you what they think the book is about and what they expect to find within.
Additionally, this can be a great time to begin introduce who ‘made’ the story: the author and the illustrator. This conversation both prepares them for the reading journey and prompts them to being reaching their own conclusions.
25. Turn the Page
We like to say reading is a “five senses” experience for a kid. It’s not just about hearing the words but experiencing the book physically as well.
In that sense, don’t forget to engage children in the tactile part of the reading experience. Encourage them to help turn the pages and move the story along physically.
The motion not only helps establish motor skills, it provides a tangible way of understanding the structure of the story and narrative flow. Words and stories become connected in a sequence and order that makes them easier to follow through a hands-on process of discovery.
26. Read the Pictures
There are a lot of well documented reasons why it’s important to read to kids as early as possible. That means, though, that sometimes they may not be ready to absorb the full narrative of the story as written.
If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to just ‘read the pictures’ on the page. Explain what’s going on through the images rather than read aloud the actual text. When your child is older, you may ask him or her to do the same back to you. They can tell you the story by interpreting the illustrations.
Illustration plays such a crucial role in children’s books. Pictures as much as words drive the narrative. You’re simply acknowledging this fact when you use them to help ‘read’ the book.
So, there you have it: our best reading tips for making you child’s reading experience fun and engaging. Remember books are about memories and it’s never too early to give a gift they’ll always remember. Check out Elephant Books for more information on the easiest and most elegant way to send this most perfect of gifts!
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