I get asked this question alot. Tips on reading to your child are easy to come by but pretty generic. Choose a book with nice pictures for example always drives me mad – like a kids book would be published with bad pictures in it! Please let me buy shares in the publishing house who takes that approach to children’s books.
So here are my REAL LIFE tips for the perfect bedtime story experience. There are only 5. How hard can it be for crying out loud!!
The main one is to remember the primary objective. The idea is that you start off reading to your kids to show them that reading is pleasurable. As time goes on they will learn to read for themselves and hopefully become readers for pleasure.
That’s what we want – kids who read for pleasure.
Everything you do therefore should be about leaving your child at night with the lasting impression that reading is a pleasurable activity.
Tip 1 – Let them choose the book
I’m not much of a shopper but there is something about a book shop that makes my heart sing. I could literally spend hours in there. If I had a bag big enough I would buy one of everything. I would live in one. Because for me when I choose a book I’m not just choosing a book; I’m choosing a doorway to step through into a brand new world. I still have that sense of wonder about books today – kids have it in spades, and the worlds that their books take them to are simply incredible.
But also a small child has very little control over their life. Somebody else chooses what they wear, where they go, what they’ll eat, even what colour cup they’ll drink from. Books are often the first way in which a child can exert some independence and start to really show us a little bit about their tastes and preferences. Every child is different in their choices and you can often tell alot about somebodies choice in books, even if that person is only 2.
Kids gain great pleasure from reading a small selection of books over and over again. You do not. But IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.
If you say no, or have a great big stand up row with them because you don’t want to read the Gruffalo for the 202nd time this week, then storm out, they will be left with the impression that books aren’t much fun after all.
I know you were hoping I’d tell you to hide the book but unfortunately I’m on the kids side here. There are so many studies out there that show kids learn from repetition. Reading that book over and over again is beneficial to your child.
However one trick that I use when we’re stuck in a rut is to get into the bedroom first, quickly get two other books out and ask my little one to choose one of those two books. It normally works quite well.
Remember – they will grow out of it……eventually!
Tip 2 – Do the voices
Have a narrator voice. That can of course be your normal fabulous voice. But when text appears in speech marks do a silly voice. Make it different from the narrator voice. It can be a bit weird at first but trust me when I say it will go down a treat. The sillier the better. Your audience loves silly – you can definitely trust me on that!
Tip 3 – Cuddle up when you read
Bed is literally one of the most wonderful snuggly gorgeous places to be in the whole wide world and they are snuggled up in bed with YOU! The pheramones are flying. The happiness and bonding is through the roof. The synaptic pathways they are laying down between ‘reading’ and ‘pleasure’ are literally thicker than a 20 tog duvet!
Tip 4 – NEVER read more than one book!
Read one book, then kiss your child and leave. Do not be tempted to read more. This might sound totally ridiculous but there will come the night some point down the line where you don’t have time to read 2 stories and all of a sudden the beautiful experience that is bedtime stories turns into a major let down. The following day your child won’t be watching YouTube on the iPad, they’ll be googling Adoption.
The key is consistency. Little and often is proven to be most beneficial to your child. Remember, this is for the long haul. You should be reading to your child for as long as they will let you as they get so much out of it. Certainly through their entire infant schooling and well into junior school.
Also, you’re trying to get them to bed! By the time they’re in year 8 they’ll have to go to bed straight from school to accommodate you reading a whole novel every night!!
Tip 5 – Don’t dumb it down – read proper books
There are alot of books out there for babies with just one word in. I have to say I don’t approve. These are not stories. Sure, they have their place, but at bedtime you need to be aiming for something with chunky words and narratives. You want plots and dastardly characters. Essentially, something good. What do you want them to read when they grow up – the Argos catalogue or Harry Potter? Use the baby books but make sure you have a collection of good quality stories. They are often cheaper to buy than the baby books and of course there is always the library.
I’m a huge fan of Julia Donaldson’s stories and can’t recommend them highly enough. I’ve been reading her books to my girls since they were babies and both the 6 and 3 year old adore them. My favourite is Tabby McTat, a tale of cat who becomes separated from his owner. After some time he goes in search of him and is reunited. I am lucky enough to be friends with a columnist at the Daily Telegraph who was interviewing Julia and asked me if I had any questions for her. There were many, but the one I chose was “many of your book have big themes. Do you intentionally set out to tell stories with big themes or does that come about as the story unfolds”. I referenced Tabby. Turns out it was a great question and got put forward.
When Julia Donaldson wrote Tabby McTat she was grieving her son who had committed suicide. A dark time in her life, she worked through, writing several stories. It was only when she looked back that she realised those stories were all about separation from a loved one. Of course in her tales there is a reunion at the end. The kids get closure. I love her work more knowing that it reflects a little bit of the reality of life.
The temptation with little kids is to dumb it down. Don’t. Raise the bar and give them something to come up to. And they will. Kids of this age are capable of so much more than they are given credit for. (Funny aside story – I have an exceptional 18 month old in one of my workshops. He does everything I ask and his copying is superb, working at least a year ahead in terms of his development. Wonder child I thought. After the workshop his mum was filling in a survey for me so I kept an eye on him for her. First thing he did was go over to the craft table and eat some glue. Clearly only a wonder child in the class and a totally normal boy outside!)
So there we are – my 5 tips! I could go on with lots and lots of science but I won’t this time. Partly because I’m very tired but mostly because I think stories should be a joyful wonderful shared experience.
One thing that I come up against time and time again is ‘my child is too young for stories’. At Story Storks we take them from 12 weeks old. Story Storks in the US (hello ladies) is a charity which goes in to maternity units and speaks to new mothers about how important it is to read to your baby. Hilary Clinton told Jimmy Fallon that he should read to his baby because “It literally builds a baby’s brain.”
And it’s true. Simply put if you don’t work on a child’s language development between the ages on 0-2 they will have a harder time learning to read than a child who did. The great thing is it’s easy to work on a child’s language development between 0-2 and a big part of that is reading to your baby every day. Perhaps at bedtime – or around 7pm when bedtime should be apart from the little poppet doesn’t seem to want to go to bed at that point, or any other point, they just want to feed feed feed feed feed feed feed feed feed feed feed feed feed feed feed will it never end!!! Well yes, it will, sooner that you know, and the stories that you read to them (perhaps whilst they’re feeding?) will set them up for a lifetime of literacy.
I hope these tips help. I love a good tip! To that end I’d love to hear more tips on bedtime reading or any type of reading so please feel free to share your tips on my Story Storks facebook page.