Reading with Kids: 9 Ways to Optimize Storytime
You know it’s important to read with your kids, but did you know that how you read with them is even more critical?
Research shows that the frequency of parent-child reading time is important, but the quality of this time tells a more indicative story. Reading with your children is a sure predictor of language development, academic literacy, and the development of imagination. When reading time is optimized, all of these outcomes are accelerated.
Here are a few easy-to-implement strategies to boost the quality of storytime with your kids.
Focus on Vocabulary
So much of reading is language development—even for us as adults. When you’re reading and come across a word you don’t recognize, do you pause to define it or pass over it because you understand the general context? Taking time to define difficult words will broaden your child’s vocabulary and help them understand the story better. It will also teach them a lifelong skill. When they read a biology textbook in school, they’ll be more likely to define difficult words and grasp challenging concepts.
Make it Fun
Be engaging! Use different voices for different characters, speak with inflection, and even try adding props. Get creative to capture your kids’ imagination. Tell the story, don’t just read along.
Give Them Something to Look For
Give your kids a purpose while you read. In our EQ Explorers series, Buddy Bee can be found on almost every page. If your kids are little, encouraging them to find Buddy Bee is a great way to keep them engaged as you turn the pages. You can also encourage them to look for a solution to a problem presented in the book or a lesson the characters will learn. Part of cognitive development and imaginative thinking is being able to anticipate or predict future emotions or events. Help your child develop this skill by giving them something to look for.
This might be the most important thing you do—not only in reading, but in parenting overall. We read to our little ones for entertainment, but we also read to help them learn. Think of questions you can ask before, during, and after reading the book. Depending on the age of your child, you’ll want to use two different types of questions: questions that assess comprehension and questions that help them explore meaning. For example, you might ask one child, “What happened when the Big Bad Wolf blew the house of straw?” A more advanced question for an older child might be, “Why didn’t the house made of bricks fall when the Big Bad Wolf tried to blow it down?”
Let Them Ask Questions, Too
Remember, asking questions is fundamental to learning. When your little one interrupts you with a silly or serious question, take the time to pause and explore their question with them. Don’t simply blurt out the answer in order to quickly move on to the next page. This isn’t about getting through the book, but rather learning from it and exploring whatever questions and ideas it inspires—so in this case, follow your child’s lead.
Pay Attention to Pictures
Illustrations are a great way to help your child stay engaged. They also tell a large part of the story and can help kids become familiar with the body language and facial expressions that convey a character’s emotions. An important part of emotional intelligence is being able to read and process the emotions of others. Point to the picture of Little Red Riding Hood and ask your child, “How do you think she feels?” Young kids who can’t yet read on their own use their imagination to create the storyline with the book’s illustrations. Encourage this by paying attention to the pictures.
You Don’t Have To Read Every Word
Consider your child’s comprehension level and their ability to sit still. A three-year old is very different from a six-year old. If your child is getting antsy, consider telling the story using the pictures rather than reading every word. Or, let your child lead storytime by telling the story themself. It’s not always about getting through the book. More importantly, it’s about helping your child get the most out of reading time. They’ll often give you hints as to what this is.
Help Them Make Connections
Books help us find solutions to issues in our own lives by reading the experiences of others. Being able to make connections across different perspectives is a large aspect of emotional intelligence. You can help your child make these connections by asking questions that bring the principles in the story to life. If Little Red Riding Hood is scared, ask your child, “Have you ever felt scared?” Have a discussion about fear and talk about effective ways to respond to this emotion. Finding the real-life application in any story will give reading greater meaning and excitement.
Reinforce the Principle of the Story
After reading a book, find ways to readdress it to prompt deeper learning. Did you read one of the books in the EQ Explorer series? Try taking the principle of the story and focusing on it for a week. Ask your child questions about situations in which they’ve applied the principle. Did someone come to school with new shoes and you were embarrassed by your old sneakers? Did your classmate get 100 on his spelling test, while you got only 80? Remind your child of the story of Compare Bear. Think of activities you can do or games you can play to reinforce the principle taught in the book.
Family environment has a significant impact on a child's literacy. Kids with parents who encourage reading and even kids who have more books in their home have a higher literacy rate and greater educational success. Reading not only boosts a child’s IQ, it has a massive impact on their emotional intelligence as well. By focusing on the quality of your reading time with your kids, you can help optimize almost every aspect of their development.
Bergen, Elsje Van, et al. “Why Are Home Literacy Environment and Children's Reading Skills Associated? What Parental Skills Reveal.” Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 2, 2016, pp. 147–160., doi:10.1002/rrq.160.
Marjanovič-Umek, Ljubica, et al. “The Quality of Mother-Child Shared Reading: Its Relations to Child's Storytelling and Home Literacy Environment.” Early Child Development and Care, vol. 189, no. 7, 2019, pp. 1135–1146.