1 Read aloud every day
Australian author Mem Fox reckons we should read three stories a day to our kids – even, heaven help us, if it’s the same story three times. Set aside a special time – just before bed is good – and make stories part of your routine. But don’t pin reading down to just one session; be flexible and ready to break into storytime morning, noon and night.
2 Vary the location
If you always read on the bed or the couch, why not get creative – particularly as you’ll be indoors a lot over the summer. You could create a ‘reading tent’ with a blanket and a couple of chairs, crawl under and get engrossed in a few old favourites. If it’s cool enough, move outside and read under a tree or dig out some old magazines or bath books and have a story session while wallowing in the paddling pool.
3 Have stuff to read in every room
Keep reading materials in the bathroom (they can help coax a child to stay on the loo or potty), in the car and, ideally, in every room in the house. Don’t just read books – encourage kids to read magazines, comics, road signs, the back of cereal packets and so on.
4 Use props
‘When we read Tin Tin Goes To Mars my father would come upstairs with a colander on his head,’ says Neil Griffiths, the brains behind Storysacks, where books are accompanied by soft toys, CDs, non-fiction books and so on to help bring the story to life. Props aren’t cheating (and even if they are, so what?) and they don’t have to be fancy. Flicking the light on and off to signal a storm, climbing under the covers and reading with a torch at the scary bit in Wind in the Willows or simply putting some of your child’s stuffed animals to work for Old MacDonald will do just fine.
5 Ham it up
Go faster or slower, louder or quieter depending on the plot, and don’t forget to use pauses for effect or to encourage kids to join in. As Fox says, ‘Read aloud, with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, flat or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.’ Get into character, using different voices and accents. Even if you feel a bit daft at first, you’ll grab your kids’ attention. ‘You have to become a theatrical performer,’ says Griffiths. ‘Use a few props to give you confidence, let go a bit and be magical.’
6 Choose books your child loves…
…and don’t grumble if you have to read them over and over again. Although, yes, if you’re reading Three Little Pigs for the 100th time in three days it may be time to encourage something different. For younger readers, short books with rhyme, rhythm and repetition are great, while other kids may enjoy getting familiar with the characters in series. But don’t try and force stories in which they have little interest.
7 Don’t make reading a chore
Po-faced librarians ‘shushing’ all the time have a lot to answer for. Reading shouldn’t be something that kids (or parents for that matter) feel pressured into doing, nor should it be done in silence. Don’t constantly try to ‘teach’ reading, just read aloud and often and never make it tense.
8 Involve the kids
Encourage your kids to get in on the act, describing pictures, reading bits of text, finishing rhymes or guessing what will happen next. Dramatise their role in the story or just get them to turn the pages. Even the way you hold the book can have an effect. Don’t just blithely flick through; take a peek at what’s coming next, adopt a shocked expression and build up the sense of anticipation. Expect to answer lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to ask a few of your own.
9 Start when they’re babies
Remember Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby reading a boxing match report in tender, loving tones? Whether he knew it or not, there was method in his madness. ‘Reading aloud to a newborn may seem rather odd considering babies can’t understand what you’re saying,’ says Sara Al Mulla of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation which, incidentally, is planning a children’s book fair next year. ‘However, it is reading aloud that is the building block of language development.’ She says cuddling up with your baby as you read conditions bubs to love reading, associating it with the warmth and security of time spent with mum or dad.
10 Be sure to continue, even after they can read independently
Young readers will enjoy listening to many books that they can’t yet master on their own, and many teenagers like to hear old favourites. Children continue to benefit from listening to others read long after they themselves have learned to. Get older siblings to read to a younger brother or sister, sharing aloud short selections from books or articles that interest them. This can be a great bonding exercise, too.
If you’re one of those worn-out parents who can’t remember the last time they summoned the energy to get past the first chapter of a book, take heart. Reading that gripping novel while ignoring the kids is a sure-fire way to get them into reading. Let the children catch you engrossed in a good read and watch how quickly the little mimics copy you.
Neil Griffiths’ booklet ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then I’ll Begin’, which explores the important role of storytime and offers practical advice on the art of storytelling, is available online at www.cornertolearn.co.uk. Check out Mem Fox’s reading style on www.memfox.com