To try and make the task of reading to your kids easier, Essential Baby asked a panel of experts for their tips on how to make reading a fun activity for all the family.
Mem Fox, children’s author www.memfox.net
- Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud.
- Read at least three stories a day: it may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read.
- Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don't be dull, or flat, or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.
- Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners.
- Read the stories that the kids love, over and over and over again, and always read in the same ‘tune’ for each book: i.e. with the same intonations on each page, each time.
- Let children hear lots of language by talking to them constantly about the pictures, or anything else connected to the book; or sing any old song that you can remember; or say nursery rhymes in a bouncy way; or be noisy together doing clapping games.
- Look for rhyme, rhythm or repetition in books for young children, and make sure the books are really short.
- Play games with the things that you and the child can see on the page, such as letting kids finish rhymes, and finding the letters that start the child’s name and yours, remembering that it’s never work, it’s always a fabulous game.
- Never ever teach reading, or get tense around books.
- Please read aloud every day, mums and dads, because you just love being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do.
Danny Katz, children’s author and columnist
The problem with reading books to kids is they always want a book at bedtime and that's the worst time for me to read books. I'm too tired, I can't even read books for myself at bed-time - I can't get past the first two pages of Who Weekly; I just glance through the celebrity photo section and have a laugh at all the movie stars caught at airports without their make-up - then I'm ready for bed. All I want to do at night is relax; I just want to sit on the couch in front of the TV and eat a Family Block of Cadbury Fruit n' Nut before the first commercial break on Family Guy. There's got to be a better time for reading books to kids, like in the afternoon on a Sunday at around 2, just after lunch.
The other problem with reading kids books is that I’m not a very good kid's book reader. My voice is drab and monotonous. And no matter how hard I try, I can't do accents. I've heard other parents reading books to their kids and they’re doing all kinds of accents and animals noises and funny sounds - they've got drama skills. But I'm reading Pinnochio and I can't even do the voice of Gepetto: "There little wooden head, you're all finished. I have just the name for you - Pinocchio!" My daughter’s looking at me and she's confused; she's seen the movie twice, she knows Gepetto's supposed to be an old Italian guy, THEN WHY'S HE SOUNDING LIKE A PAKISTANI WHO'S SPENT A BIT OF TIME IN MEXICO?
But the biggest problem of all is this: I suffer from a serious affliction called IMMATURE-ITIS, it’s a condition that turns a mature, respectable man with a wife and two kids into a snickering little schoolboy. I was reading Mother Goose to them - a lovely old book with old-fashioned illustrations where all the girls have pink cheeks and bonnets and all the boys have feathers in their hats and floppy, girly Bieber haircuts.
But I couldn’t get past Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn, the sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn, but where is the... boy... I started giggling and smirking. Blow your horn, blow your horn, heh heh heh.
Tony Wilson, children’s author www.tonywilson.com.au
Choose good books. Sometimes, we as adults can’t tell because the kids will prefer some awful pap that completely eludes our quality filter. But there are so many books that parents can enjoy and kids can enjoy too. I find it pretty easy to steer my daughter Polly towards quality stuff, like Julia Donaldson or Oliver Jeffers. If everyone is enjoying the story, that translates to a positive reading experience. The other thing is for parents to practice their reading. So many adults I hear bolt through a story, without putting any emotion into the read. It’s a performance. Just as we wouldn’t want to sit through an awful film or play, kids need a measure of entertainment. Scan your eyes a few words ahead so that you know what is coming, and then give it a bit of drama. Try funny voices. When I’m reading to kids, I get them to pretend to be flowers in the walking class or kids at a free pants convention. That might not work so well calming them down at bedtime, but the idea is to be creative. For kids with an arts /craft bent, you can encourage drawing scenes from their favourite books. It all builds into a love of reading.
Robert Greenberg, children’s author www.childrenstelevision.net
What do think are the elements that make a good kids book?
Exactly the same stuff that makes a good book for adults- great characters and a story that keeps you guessing. Sounds easy I suppose, but it’s got to have all the layers that allow it to be read and re read. Hmm, bit like a good book for adults. That really is my philosophy, great characters that a child can relate to and a story the goes like an electric toothbrush during a power surge.
Kids like the titles of my books like- There's Money In Toilets - they try to guess what its about before they read it. And Swimming with Skeletons is a title that’s caused a few night terrors with kids but I’m told it’s a stage they’ll grow out of.
Lucy Goodman, creator of children’s television show Bookaboo (on ABC2) www.bookaboo.co.uk
I’m not a child expert, simply a programme maker who loves books so I write these tips from my own experience:
- Do everything that you can to bring the story to life. Let the actor in you live a little! Try those character voices – it’s not ‘X Factor’, no one will judge you.
- Use your finger on the page to follow the action. If a bird ‘flies through the air’, then point at the bird and follow the arc with your finger that the bird might make. It’s a way of you animating the book yourself and seems to help children follow the story and keep their attention.
- If you can’t get back for bedtime, find another time you can read regularly. Bookaboo says ‘books are for anytime, not just for beddy time!’ If there’s a boring wait at the doctor or dentist, a long bus trip , then pack a book. Time is tough to find these days, but books don’t have to be purely a bedtime activity.
- Try your own ‘bookabag’. I tried this and it’s how the bookabag came into being. Find a bag you can call a bookabag. Any bag will do. Just make it one that you keep for this purpose. Then, at a time much earlier than bedtime (teatime, after nursery/school), you start the ‘game’. There are two options in this game. Do both. Option 1, you ask your child to choose a book and place it in the ‘bookabag’. You cover your eyes and ask them to make it a surprise. Just make sure they’re only looking at children’s books ie keep ‘War and Peace’ well out of the way! They pack the bag and put it in their bedroom for bedtime (or whenever you choose is ‘storytime’). When storytime comes, you then make a big show of letting the child pull out the book as a big surprise for you. Option 2, you ask your child to cover their eyes and you pick a book and place it in the ‘bookabag’ which you hide until storytime. Once again, at storytime, you make a big deal, really build the suspense before revealing the book. There’s something about this really quite simple game that makes the book incredibly special. It’s also a handy incentive to help get children to bed or to storytime.
- If you’re a mum with boy/s – try and find someone male (family or friend) who can share a book too. The research I did seemed to indicate that male reading models are important to boys who can all too easily assume it’s a ‘girl’ thing.
- Don’t forget your family friends and grandparents. They’ll often be more eager than you realise to share the ‘load’ and it enables them to spend special time with a child that they care about too.
- Finally, whatever you do – make it fun. It’s making it fun that will I hope inspire a lifelong love of books – truly one of the great gifts you can give your child.
As I say, I’m not an expert, these are simply tips from my own experience and I’m always eager to hear others.