How to read to your kids (without feeling like a total idiot)

My tots are currently two years old, and six months old.  I love how completely different in character they are already.  Sausage is a total bookworm and always has been.  Even at a few months old she loved being read to, and was able to focus for the entire length of a board book.   Now, if the house goes suddenly quiet you can expect to find her sitting on the couch with her nose in a book.  Chip, not so much.  He will look at a page or two, but that’s it.  He’s far more interested in trying to turn the page, rather than at looking at the page.  He is an active kid who I’m pretty sure will need to be channeled into lots and lots of sport one day.

Sausage as a baby being read to by Oma

Sausage as a baby being read to by Oma

I myself, am a book nerd.  I come from a long line of book nerds.  My idea of the best way to pass time is to curl up somewhere comfy and read (sadly this doesn’t happen often at the moment!).  I remember being shocked to discover at school that some kids DIDN’T LIKE TO READ!  This just blew my mind.  I couldn’t understand how anyone could dislike reading, when for me books were transportation to new worlds where good friends were just waiting to be found.  In books I could live someone else’s life, dream someone else’s dream, go back in time or explore an alien planet.

I believe that most kids who don’t like reading are either in two camps: they come from a home where they aren’t read to very often (some not at all 😦 ), or they haven’t met the right book yet.

For me, reading to my kids comes naturally.  I do it multiple times a day.  Often the same books over and over and over and over, and did I mention over again?  But I realise that some parents struggle with it.  They themselves don’t like reading, or they feel self-conscious about reading aloud to their kids.  Other parents struggle to get their kid to sit still for 1 minute so they can actually read a book in its entirety.

Here are my tips to make reading aloud an enjoyable experience for everyone:

  • Choose your tot’s books.  I cannot stress this enough.  If you don’t enjoy their books, I guarantee you that your tot will pick up on it.  Your tone of voice or facial expressions will betray you.  If you like the books you read to your children, you will enjoy it as much as they do, and read to them more often.  Choosing good books is akin to preparing for battle.  There is a minefield of spectacularly rubbish children’s books out there.  And I mean so rubbish I cannot understand how it got published.  (Steer clear of pretty much anything that is merchandising for a kids ‘character’, they are generally terrible.)  Fortunately there are also many, many fabulous children’s books that won’t make you wince in pain every time your tot asks you to read it to them.  Once your child is old enough to express an opinion, by all means let them choose some books, but make sure you are still bringing plenty of great books into your home.  Even teenagers should be regularly given good books that will stretch, challenge, inspire and entertain them, lest they should think that Twilight is the epitome of great literature.
  • Have a quick read of a new story FIRST so you can unleash your inner actor/actress.  Use silly voices or accents.  Go on.  You can do it.  I often randomly decide that a particular character happens to be Irish or American, or another one is particularly gruff and gravely-voiced, while another speaks in a high-pitched squeak.  Sausage loves it when I do different voices for different characters and will often tell me off if I forget that the fox in ‘The Gruffalo’ has a French accent.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t do other accents well – your kid won’t know!  Your kids will think you are the cleverest, funniest storyteller ever.  No one reads ‘My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes’ better than my Dad who is the master at silly voices and gets special requests to read it all the time.  One reason it’s great to channel Meryl Streep is that if your kid is a one-page-and-I’m-done sort of kid, it may increase their attention span.  If I do a different voice, it holds Chip’s attention much longer – although he will often give me a funny look as if he can’t quite figure out what’s peculiar about Mummy.
  • Read with the appropriate emotion in your voice. No one likes being read to in a monotone or bored (see above point) voice.   If the character in the book is excited, use an excited tone.  If they are scared, use a scared tone.  Sausage loves it when I pretend to cry or yell or whisper, and is thrilled beyond measure every time D or I get to the scary end of ‘I am the Big Bad Wolf and here I come’.

  • Know your child.  The better you know your child, the easier it will be to get books that they love.  Your fidgety kid might sit still for a book about knights or hedgehogs if that’s what they’re into.  And keep paying attention.  Your once dinosaur-loving kid may quickly shift interests from Stegosaurus to Ancient Rome.  Or Richard Scarry.
  • Create reading rituals.  It’s easy to get into the habit of reading to your kids daily if you make it part of your routine.  Many kids need a bit of quiet time in the afternoons so this is a perfect opportunity, and of course a few stories before bed make bedtime much more fun for both of you (kid snuggles, yay!)  You can even schedule a regular trip to the library for more reading time.
  • Read aloud like no one else is listening.  Because 9 times out of 10 it’s just you and your kids in the room.  Our books from childhood stay with us.  They help shape us into who we are, how we see the world.  I’m sure we have all seen a favourite book from childhood and greeted it like an old friend.  Be part of that memory for your kids.

4 thoughts on “How to read to your kids (without feeling like a total idiot)

    • Boy does she ever! She loves the Gruffalo too, anything with Maisy in it and anything by Margaret Mahy. Loved your post – I know what you mean about rhyming books, I love them too.

  1. This is such a sweet post that makes my heart happy! My daughter is 7-months-old and I adore our reading time together. I wholeheartedly agree that choosing books you love to read to your child makes all the difference. I pick out books for the Little Miss solely based on how much I like them, and it makes it more fun for me to do silly voices and really get into them more.

    • Thank you! It’s great fun, isn’t it. I’ve enjoyed introducing my kids to some of my favourite books from childhood. They are almost always as good as I remember.

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