Read together every day.
This may be hard for adults to get comfortable with. However, with just a little practice, parents (and anybody else) can get good at it in no time. Children don’t care how good you are, anyway. They are just delighted to be “there,” sitting together and reading with you.
Reading, in this case, means “enjoying” a book or story to its fullest. As with eating, it’s not just about getting full. It’s about being fully “into” the experience that the author presents – relishing everything that is offered.
For most kids (and adults) starting by talking about the pictures is a smart move. Everybody can enjoy the image on the cover (if there is one) along with those peppered throughout the selected book or story. For older children, appropriate books may not have pictures or have only very few. No worries! school age kids are likely to have had enough practice at using their imaginations that they will enjoy the process of creating mental images that a title suggests. “I’m seeing a huge green valley full of gigantic dinosaurs! What does that title make YOU think of?”
The reading of the text is not a performance. It is a generous sharing of a book together. The reading should sound as much as possible like talk, with all of the emotion that the story calls for, like silliness, anger, confusion, or joy. Dialogue and description may be done in character “voices,” but it’s not really necessary. That can come later when the adult gets fully comfortable with and looks forward to sharing playfully.
Talk about what you read.
This may be a challenge for some adults to do with small children, especially babies and toddlers who have not yet begun to talk themselves. This too is a sharing activity during reading. Adults should share things that the story / book reminds them of in their own lives and invite children to share what the story makes them think about. “Remember when WE went camping? I loved seeing that quail family we saw running around under the bushes.”
Pre-speech children may just smile or giggle or stare glassy-eyed. That’s great. Babies are learning all the time. They are language magnets and your sharing will help shape their first words.
While this talk might include some questions from the adult to the child, it is not a quiz. It’s just relaxed sharing. The best questions ask about what you would truly like to know. “Do you know anybody who is like that?” is a question to which the adult can’t know the answer. The child’s response, whatever it is, then becomes the basis for more conversation. If we are greeted by silence, answering our own questions from our own perspective shows children how to enjoyably participate.
One of the HUGE benefits of reading is that is nurtures rich language growth. When the child shares something just encourage more talk, e.g. “Oh right! Remind me about when that happened.”
Book talk serves as an invitation to children to comfortably share from their own child-perspective about something outside of themselves, following the lead of the adult. At some point, the children should feel comfortable to ask the adult similar questions to those they have been asked in other reading times. When that happens, give yourself a pat on the back and answer honestly. That could range from “I have no idea!” to a full story about your past.
Relax and have fun!
This may be the most difficult thing, especially when getting started. If you can hold onto this reading “event” as just a chance to share and get to know each other better around a topic of common interest, then it should be easy to relax. Reading should always be FUN for both the adult and the child. Laughter, blurts, wonderings, and connecting to home and community life are all totally appropriate and valuable contributions to the child’s growth in language and understandings about the world.
If both adult and child have an enjoyable time then this event will be an unavoidable success, paving another step on the way to the joys of a lifetime of reading personally favorite books.