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10 Tips to Read Aloud to Kids

read aloud

Guest post from Sarah of Early Bird Mom

Reading to kids regularly is a fabulous frugal summertime habit. It costs little to nothing if you get your books from the library or trade with friends, and it’s a great way to spend quality time together.

My mother tells a story of how she started reading to me when I was just a few months old. Actually she was reading Little House books to my older step-sister and I came along for the ride. That tradition continued in our family until I was well-established as a bookworm myself. Now that I have 4 boys of my own, reading together is a favorite activity in our house as well.

Reading to your kids isn’t automatically an easy thing to do, especially if you have kids of multiple ages or have a very active kid who doesn’t like to slow down to listen. If you’d like to spend more time reading together with your children, here are 10 tips to help you get started!

Here are 10 tips for reading aloud to kids:

1. Make it a habit.

Pick a reading time and put it on your schedule. After breakfast? At bedtime? After lunch? If you work it into your day, you’ll be more likely to do it and your kids will come to count on it.

2. Stop before they get tired.

Some kids can listen to books for hours. Some will only sit for 5 minutes – try to stop before your kids get antsy.

3. Remember that picture books aren’t just for babies.

There are lots of great picture books for elementary school and beyond.

4. Don’t require kids sit still.

If your kid won’t sit quietly while you read, never fear! Lots of kids listen better (and retain tons) while playing as you read. Offer Play-Doh, toy cars, crayons, or Legos. My 3-year-old has a habit of getting out his fire trucks when I start reading. He will stop playing to come see the pictures every now and then.

5. Don’t be afraid to dump a book that’s not working.

I’ve had plenty of duds – either the book was too long or my kids just weren’t interested. There’s no point in forcing a book that no one wants to read. There are too many other great books waiting to be enjoyed.

6. Turn the story into a craft.

If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can find easy projects to go along with most children’s books on Pinterest.

7. Keep your car stocked with books.

You never know when there will be an opportunity for an impromptu reading sessions with the kids.

8. Use audiobooks!

These are great for quiet time and car trips.

9. Keep a list of books you’ve read together.

Kids will enjoy looking back over the list and remembering their favorites. You might even get them to write a short review.

10. Build up their attention spans.

If your kids aren’t used to long read-alouds, start small. A short chapter of a Lemony Snickett book only takes 10 minutes. Shut the book when it’s done and your kids will be begging for more!

Reading aloud is an excellent habit to build with your kids! If you’re not completely convinced, read my 9 reasons to read to your kids this summer.

What are your best tips for reading aloud to your kids?

Sarah Mueller is a child of God, wife and homeschool mom to 4 boys, from toddler to teen. She loves helping busy moms develop simple systems to help their homes run more smoothly. You can find her at Early Bird Mom.

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  • Lauren says:

    My best tip would be to balance the style of reading/teaching you are doing. Balance your just for pleasure/fun reading time with your reading for intentional purposes (recalling details, asking questions, discussing higher level thoughts about a book, etc). It’s important to make sure your children are paying attention to detail and being able to recall those details at the end. It’s important for your children to ask questions, infer, and stay engaged. But, it’s also important just to listen sometimes…with no interruption at all!

    • I love these tips! I do like to ask my kids questions at times when we read. It’s amazing the connections they make.

      • brandi says:

        As a teacher, can I request you keep doing this?! This is one of the things Common Core stresses A LOT! I teach my second grade kiddos to retell a story (huge 2nd grade concept) using their fingers. The thumb is the characters, index finger the setting and other fingers are the beginning, middle and endings.

  • DL says:

    I would add not to be afraid of reading books to your children that may seem a bit above their comprehension. It is amazing what young children can absorb. Well written chapter books can not only enhance vocabulary skills, but provide young minds much to ponder.

    As an avid read aloud mother who is now a grandmother reading with delight to four grandchildren, I have to say, some of the most precious memories still in my heart, are of reading to my children. Snuggled under quilts at naptime, clustered on the couch when homeschooling and watching my husband too read to our children before bed, gives me the “warm fuzzies” every time I think of these memories.

  • kat says:

    I am a librarian at an elementary school and I love this post! I would also add to be very theatrical! Kids love it when you change your voice to match the characters. I also like to ask the kids open ended questions during the story. Example: “If you were the character what would you do?”

  • Anya N. says:

    Everything counts! Comic books, warning labels, fortune cookies slips, and the Sunday funnies in the newspaper are all great ways to sneak in reading.

  • Alexa says:

    You know, I used to get so frustrated that my youngest daughter would not sit and listen to me read and look at the pictures like my oldest would. I finally just let it go and stopped nagging her to sit beside me.

    Now I feel like she pays more attention and actually listens while she’s playing. There is one book that she’s glued to though, so I read that to her often.

    And another thing I do to keep their attention is to change the names of the characters in the books to their names. They love that!

  • Patty says:

    Great list! A couple more tips:
    –with your guidance, let your child choose books from the library; it’s lots of fun to have “your” book read
    –find ways to incorporate the characters or stories into everyday life to help your child think beyond the story; such as when you’re at the grocery saying, “look at all these apples! remember when Cricket tried to eat that giant apple in “Hungry Cricket”?”
    –my daughter’s principal reminded me that older children like to be read to as well; this is especially helpful for struggling or reluctant readers

  • Elizabeth says:

    I think these are great tips. I LOVED being read to as a child and I have retained my love of reading and writing into adulthood. I didn’t usually have trouble sitting still, but as I got older I started to prefer to do an activity while being read to. My mom and dad balked at first, but only a bit, and then they allowed me and my siblings to color in coloring books, build with Legos, cut out paper dolls, etc., during evening “story time.” I think a kinesthetic activity can help in maintaining attention span and retention of the subject matter, depending on the child and/or the book. I think as the books got more complicated, I found I needed to move around a bit, even just moving my hands, in order to understand the story. So I could sit still while listening to Narnia or The Secret Garden, but not while listening to Steinbeck or Shakespeare. We read tons of children’s and YA books as a family, but my parents also read us a lot of classic literature at a young age. I still remember being read The Odyssey at the age of something like 8, and I remember the story to this day and am grateful that I was exposed to Homer at such a young age. And I’m grateful that I was allowed to lie on the floor and wiggle around while my parents read it to me. 😉

  • I love to read with my son and he loves books too… I’m interested in adding audiobooks to our repertoire (I’d love to have him try this some time like when I’m making dinner or something), but I have some questions that maybe some of you more experienced moms can answer… Is 3 1/2 too young to do this? Any particular audiobook recommendations?

    • Melissa says:

      Until just recently when I gave birth to my first child, I was a children’s librarian, and I would recommend looking at your local library for picture books that come with an audio cd of the story being read. They may be called Read-a-longs or something similar. They are great for kids your son’s age because they can look at the pictures still. You can also purchase books that come with the audio. The Skippyjon Jones books by Judy Schachner tend to include the audio and are very fun.

    • Anya N. says:

      3 1\2 is fine! When my now-6-year-old was that age, we had an audio book of “Tikki Rikki Tembo” that I had to play every time we drove anywhere. Every. Time.

      So, if you’re going to get an audio book, get one you won’t mind hearing a million or so times

    • Miriah says:

      I started reading chapter books to my 3 year old daughter. I spoke with our librarian and she made some great recommendations. We started with “My Father’s Dragon” by Ruth Stiles Gannett. There are pictures on every other page. There are 3 books & she looked forward to the next one and surprised me by how much she remembered! Now we are reading through Charlotte’s Web!

    • brandi says:

      It is not! They have tons of children’s audio books! Take a look at this site, it lists 10 websites (most are free) for audio books. Some have the book so they can follow along, others don’t. Don’t forget about nonfiction books. Kids love to know more about the world around them!

    • Thanks for all the advice! Truly helpful. I’ll have to look up some of those to get from the library and try.

  • Jennifer says:

    I’m convinced that next to nursing my son, the second best thing I did was read to him early and often. He’s 11 now and not as interested in reading as he once was but he still enjoys being read to. However, when he’s not interested in a chapter from a book. We’ll read a poem or two instead, which he enjoys.

  • Susan says:

    Great post.

    I wish I had figured out earlier that some kids do better to be doing something else while being read to. I tried to read to my daughter starting when she was just a baby, and she was never interested. I’d heard so much about how important it is to expose children to books at a young age, and I worried that she would never learn to read. Instead of trying to get her to sit still, listen and follow along, I wish I’d just let her play while I read aloud.

  • Katrina says:

    When my sons were ready for the larger chapter books like Harry potter, I would look at yard sales for small happy meal type toys of the characters, they played with these while listening, it worked wonderfully to keep their attention. We would also pick a character type christmas ornament each year of our favorite series. We still chuckle about a bikini type ornament that my sons picked out to represent their favorite book that year, brace yourself, it was “are you there god, it’s me Margaret” by Judy Blume. Try finding a bra ornament to represent that! I urge you not to gender stereotype what you read to your sons, they will be husbands and fathers one day. We encountered lots of dirty looks the year that my six year old wore a homemade bonnet to look like his hero “Laura” from little house on the prairie series.

  • For myself, I won’t read a book ahead of time before reading it to the kids. (I usually research or find suggestion lists to work from.) If I don’t know exactly what is coming, I’m much more likely to want to actively read the book. When a child asks for one more chapter, I’m much quicker to say yes when I can’t wait to find out what happens either.

  • I love to play with the words of a story as I read aloud. I am a Disney Nut. I loved to read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very Bad Day. Our little joke was we always replaced the word Australia with Walt Disney World. It’s a wonderful memory!!!

  • Great list! We’ve done audiobooks, but it was more of a theatrical kind of thing with sound effects. My kids were weirded out at first, wondering why they can’t watch it on TV. But it was good for them to just refine their listening skills and build their imagination. We’ve also used audiobooks, which were just a straight read-through of a book. One of my kids, who has some challenges in reading, really improved when he would follow along his book while listening to the CD version.

  • Michele says:

    Another suggestion is to start a book club with friends and their moms (or dads). My friends and I started a book club for our girls when they were 5 years old. It started with us reading a book to them and then they would do a craft. As they got older, it progressed to them reading a book by themselves and then discussing it. The club lasted for years and was a lot of fun.

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