Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.
Reading with your child from a young age has great benefits, but sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve compiled a list of tips that will help keep your young reader engaged and will foster a lifelong love of reading. Each tip below includes a link to give you more in-depth information and examples on how to use that tip during reading time.
In search of more helpful resources for your young reader? Check out our reading resources for kids here.
Engage with Illustrations
One of the most fun and fruitful ways of engaging with a book is to take a closer look at its illustrations. Doing so will not only promote an appreciation for art, but will also help your child to better understand the story they are reading. Because illustrations and text often work together to convey certain information, your child can look to a book’s artwork to gather essential clues.
- Make Connections
Draw connections between what you see in illustrations and what your child has experienced in real life. If an elephant appears in the book you are reading, for example, you might talk about the time that you went to the zoo and saw an elephant in person.
- Incorporate counting
Count out the number of certain objects you see on the page, like flowers, balloons, trees, etc.
- Talk About Colors
Point to different colors on the page, identify them, and even connect them to other things that are that same color.
- Make Predictions
Use what you can see in the pictures to predict what will happen next. Illustrations are often great tools for foreshadowing!
- Discuss Emotions
A lot of the time, a character’s emotion is conveyed through illustrations. Discuss facial expressions, body language, or other signs of emotion with your child.
Making predictions allows you to take a closer look at the story. It can also make reading even more fun by offering you the opportunity to get creative and imaginative. Doing this with young children can get them more engaged and excited about reading a book, and it will get them in the habit of making their own predictions when they become more independent readers.
- At the beginning of the book, share what you think might happen and why you think so. You might say something like “This book is called Where the Wild Things Are. I wonder if the wild things might be some kind of monsters. I think we might be going on an adventure in this book.”
- Use the illustrations as you go along and point out different things that might provide clues to what happens next. If you see a fox approaching a hen house, you might guess that there is about to be some trouble
- Follow up at the end with your predictions. You might say something like “Wow, I thought that X was going to happen, but it turns out Y actually happened.” Walk through this and reflect on the plot of the story as you go to reinforce your child’s understanding of the story.
Discuss Elements of a Story
Understanding the basic elements of a story—characters, setting, conflict, theme, and plot—can help you better understand the story as a whole. Looking at each of these different pieces allows you to talk more about the book and introduce even more new vocabulary to your child. Discussing aspects like conflict and theme can also be a great way to connect what you are reading to your child’s life or experiences.
Point out different traits that characters have, as well as their relationships to other characters. You could discuss who the main character is, who the villain is, what the character’s motivations or wishes are, whether or not the characters in the book are friends or foe, etc.
Talk about what the setting is like and what you find interesting or cool about it. Make connections to places that you have been before or other books you have read with a similar setting.
Discuss what the problem is in the story and talk about different solutions. You can also relate the conflict to real life or talk about what you might do if you were in the character’s shoes.
Identify what the main message of the story is and talk about why you think it’s important for your child to understand. Think through why the message is significant and how it might help others.
Walk through the plot and clarify what happened in the story. You can identify the beginning, middle, and end of the story or discuss how one event led to the next.
The way that you read a story can get your child more excited about reading and can increase their comprehension of the story. Speaking at different volumes, using different voices, varying your reading speed, employing expressive hand motions, and acting the story out all help your child to better understand a story. Additionally, acting silly together will help the book come to life and create lots of smiles, laughs, and memories during reading time, making it the perfect opportunity to bond.
- Use Different Voices
Pick different voices of different characters, use a funny accent, change the pitch of your voice, or alternate the volume you use. This will make reading fun and get your child more engaged!
- Read at Different Speeds
Read more quickly when there is a lot of action going on or at moments of high tension. Read more slowly when things are at peace or the conflict has been resolved. This mimics a story’s natural plot structure and will begin to introduce your child to the idea that stories have a climax and a resolution.
- Get Moving
Use hand movements or gestures to make the story come to life. Babies, especially, respond well to these motions.
Explore Different Parts of a Book
Even though your child will not yet be sounding out words at this age, you can introduce them to different strategies that they can use when they begin to do so. Focusing on specific words and going through them slowly will also introduce new vocabulary and allow children to begin to identify their letters.
- Front and Back Cover
Take a closer look at the illustrations and identify characters, talk about setting, or even predict what might happen in the book.
Read out the title or if your child is old enough, ask them to identify the book. You might also use the title to make a prediction about the story.
- Endpapers and Flyleaves
These are the first two pages you see when you open a book, and they often add something fun to the story or hint at what is to come.
Sounding Out Words
Pointing out the different parts of a book is likely something you already do before you read. What you might not realize, however, is that doing so can really help your child develop strong literacy skills and grow into a great reader. Taking a closer look at the cover, the title page, the author and illustrator, the illustrations, and more can help your child better appreciate books, build essential literacy skills, and gain a preview of what is to come in the book.
- Separate Into Chunks
Divide words into syllables and pronounce each portion out. This will slow you down and focus on specific sounds within the word so that your child can better identify them.
- Stretch It Out
Say the word slowly, sounding it out letter by letter.
- Use Pictures for Context
Look towards illustrations when sounding out a word. The visual will help your child better understand the word you are reading, and it will also help them to remember that word in the future.
- Use the Story for Context
Talk through what word might make sense in a given context. For example, if you come across the word “scarf” and you know that the character is going ready to go outside on a chilly day, you might have a discussion about what kinds of clothing the character might put on.
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