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The ups and downs of reading aloud

Posted by Susan on September 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM in Recommendations
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What's my favorite part of the day? That's easy.

It's at night, when I get to read books with my son. I love when he snuggles in close to listen. I love when he asks questions. I love when he discovers a book for the first time. I love spending time with him in such a special way.

But, it wasn't always that way. And that's okay too.

When he was younger, he wouldn't hold still for anything, let alone a book. He wiggled. He squirmed. He was totally uninterested. It was tough on a parent like me who had been waiting for years until she had kids of her own to read to. It was hard not to feel like I was doing something wrong.

All kids develop differently, even when it comes to reading aloud.

I frequently hear from parents of kids under three years old who are trying to read to their children but find it extremely frustrating. Children at that age are wiggly, active and have trouble sitting still for anything.

Instead of reading regular picture books, try ones with only a few words per page. Read only one or two short books a night. Songs, nursery rhymes and short poems work very well with that age. So does singing a book. Also, give touch-and-feel and lift-the-flap books a try. Those kinds of books engage children directly and help teach them about books and what they're used for.

As much as you may have dreamed of reading The Cat in the Hat to your children, it's okay to wait a few years until they're ready to hear it.

Photo credit: taliesin from

The main thing to remember is to do what works for your kids. Some three year olds can sit still for a lengthy picture book, while others can't make it through anything much longer than a board book. If you have a seven year old who loves to hear picture books, go right ahead. If your four year old is enjoying chapter books, then by all means, give them a try. If your twelve year old wants to listen to you read a chapter a night, take advantage of that. There aren't any rules or rights and wrongs to reading aloud.

And recognize that it won't always go perfectly. Sometimes your child will be in the mood to be read to and it will be a magical moment for you both. Others times they might feel tired, sick or bored (or you might) and it just doesn't work out as well. And if you're a working parent like me, there are nights where you're just not going to be able to have that time together. That's okay too. Last night, I worked late at the library, and came home to find my son sound asleep. His dad read to him, and I'm glad they got to share that.

Go easy on yourself and your children when it comes to reading aloud. And enjoy the wonderful moments when they happen.

What have your reading aloud experiences been like? I'd love to hear about them.


Kristen M. writes...

It's true with anything kid-related that it rarely happens the way you imagined it would! I wanted to read to my son from the start but he was very possessive of his books and he wanted to "read" his and I could read mine. But then slowly he started giving in to sharing and now we have started chapter books at night (he's five). This has been a great experience for us especially since he is delayed in conversational language and for the first time this past week he started asking "What" questions about a book. It's "The Cricket in Times Square" and we live in Seattle so it's all new to us! It has been a great experience to hear his questions about subways and newsstands and Times Square.

Susan writes...

For younger toddlers on the go, those board books with one word per page are great. They'll be ready for longer stories when their need to explore subsides a little!

Joni writes...

My boys love for me to read to them. We just finished reading three books now. I was ready to move to the fourth book, because I could go on and on with reading, but they were clearly done.

They love when I read. They are not so crazy about me stopping and asking questions(they are four). I have to remember that reading to them is for the pure love of listening. They love a good story.

Alice writes...

I remember being devastated when my 7 or 8 year old son lost interest in story time before bed. He would begin with us, but then wander off to play quietly in his room. I let him. There is nothing worse than force-feeding reading!

I count it great joy that to this day he remembers with fondness Ruth Stiles Gannet's three , My Father's Dragon tales.

He did enjoy long periods of looking at and reading non-fiction books by himself. To this day he prefers movies, music, and theater over reading. It's all story!

Monica writes...

Bedtime is the best part of the day for us, too. Both my kids just fall apart if something comes in the way of our special reading time before going to sleep. And I agree that there is nothing better than snuggling in against fluffy covers and soft pillows to enjoy a great story.
We do have some favorites and on nights that I am really tired, I ask my 5 year old to "read" to me. She has them memorized and enjoys the opportunity to switch roles with mom. It also encourages her to practice reading.

dave writes...

Try stopping and asking your child "What do you think will happen," Keep your child interested by asking how he feels about a character or situation. Good luck and happy reading.....dave

KC writes...

For those children who absolutely won't sit still and listen, get a good read-aloud book (something that rhymes, or Dr Seuss, something with a good sound) and read out loud while they are playing in the room. Even if the story doesn't catch their attention (and I bet it will) they're listening to a story and not the TV.

henna writes...

I'm with dave; asking questions is integral to maintaining interest and spurring speech.

Also, for younger kids, skip the reading altogether. Speak in full sentences about every little thing you see and make connections. If there is a rabbit on the page, go to his room and bring a stuffed rabbit, and go online and show him some footage of a rabbit, and show him how a rabbit jumps, and pull out that soft winter sweater to show him how a rabbit feels. Each page should take about five awesome minutes. Oh, and toss in a pretend rabbit petting/feeding to teach that books aren't limited by words -- then let them lead you...

My guy is almost two.

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