Our home in the woods is not too far from a small family strawberry farm. Every year we go and pick berries and eat them until we are sick of strawberries. It’s wonderful.
After we had lived here for a year or so, I decided that I ought to make some of these beautiful strawberries into jam. I had never made jam before, but I pictured myself bustling around the kitchen in an apron, peacefully making jars of beautiful preserves while I listened to a funny book on tape. I imagined myself like some sort of cross between Mary Ingalls and Tina Fey.
However, I did not realize that jam making involved so much boiling, and I was soon ridiculously hot. I think I strained a wrist muscle, too, from all the strawberry chopping.
About halfway through the jam making process, a gentleman came to treat our well. Ahh, the joys of home ownership.
I pointed him in the right direction, then went back to work. I immediately burned myself.
Then, I lost count of the cups of sugar that went into the bowl. So, I tried to dump the bowl full of sugar back into the sugar canister so that I could start again. This was a mistake, and sugar went all over the counter, and the floor, and everywhere.
At this exact moment, the gentleman came back in and said, “All done. Just don’t use any water for at least 36 hours. You might want to take the kids someplace else, too, ’cause the fumes can get pretty bad. Sign here, please.”
Then he was gone.
And, there I was, nasty and sweaty, kitchen counter covered in sugar, with no water to clean anything up (including me) or to finish the canning process. I also needed to get my children out of the house before we all succumbed to these “fumes” he spoke of.
I started thinking to myself, “This is…not what I pictured.”
Has this happened to you? Have you ever taken up an activity, and it hasn’t gone like you pictured it going? Do you like the idea of reading aloud chapter books to your kids, but it just hasn’t worked out the way you pictured it in your head?
You have come to the right place!
These tips for reading aloud are basic and easy to implement, but they will make a drastic improvement to your read aloud time! Just don’t ask me for tips on making jam…
Top 5 Tips for Reading Aloud Chapter Books
1. Don’t commit to how much you’re going to read in a sitting.
If you say at the beginning, “We’re all going to sit here until we’ve finished this chapter,” or, “We’re going to read for thirty minutes,” now you’re locked into it.
It’s bad to lock yourself into an amount that you’re going to read.
When I do that, inevitably my kids start squirming after a page. Then it feels like I have to force them to tough it out and SIT STILL because if I don’t make my children mind me, then James Dobson will roll over in his grave.
Wait, he’s still living?
Well, then the fact that my kids don’t always listen may send him to an early grave.
I’m sure that I am the only one who constantly feels the weight of generations of religious-parenting-zeal telling me that I have to force my kids to obey. However, if you feel that pressure too, I have an easy fix.
The easy solution is to just not commit to anything when you sit down. Just say, “We’re going to read for a bit!”
This is simple to implement, but is definitely one of my top tips for reading aloud! Don’t commit, just read as long as everyone is enjoying it.
2. Use a few voices.
Giving a few characters different voices will help your kids follow who-is-who in the story.
You can get as crazy as you want to with your voice acting.
But God be with you if you forget what Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy sounds like in Uncle Wiggly, because every time you read it after you forget her voice, your preschooler will say, “That’s not her voice.”
I try to keep it simple so that I can remember the voices as we read the stories over many days.
I make the main character have my normal voice. That makes it a lot easier to keep the bulk of the dialogue consistent.
Then, I have one character who’s voice I raise the pitch a little higher. I also have one character who’s voice I lower the pitch a little.
This helps me keep it fairly straight – normal voice most of the time, with one voice up in pitch and one voice down in pitch.
Even with the forgetfulness that I’ve seemed to acquire over the years, I can keep 3 voices straight.
Finally, if there are any characters that should obviously speak at a different pace, I vary the pace that I read their dialogue. For example, turtles speak slowly and rabbits speak quickly.
All of this takes very little effort once you get used to it, but it will make your story times much richer.
3. Keep your phone handy.
Yes. Seriously. That says, “Keep your phone handy.”
No, I’m not joking.
It’s very important, though, that you not actually look at your phone! Do not scroll through Instagram while you are supposed to be bonding with your kids! Blake Lively and the posts of her gorgeous family will still be there once you are done with reading time!
The reason to keep your phone near is to be able to pull up pictures of what you are reading about to enhance your kids’ understanding.
This is especially helpful for books with concepts that are less familiar to your kids and few illustrations. For example, The Magician’s Nephew is set in London several centuries ago. I pulled up a picture of a hansom cab so the kids could see it. Honestly, I needed to see what it looked like, too!
We have looked up pictures or videos of all kinds of things while reading, from “picture of a vole” for The Wind in the Willows to, “how do ninjas jump so high” for Ninja Meerkats.
Just because your kids are beginning to pick up stories through the written word doesn’t mean they should decrease visual learning. Put all of that knowledge in your pocket to good use!
4. Laugh out loud.
Kids love a funny book. Parents love a funny book. There’s literally no one on earth who doesn’t like a funny book.
Of course, my sample size is only our household, so I may be overstating slightly, but I stand by my statement.
Sometimes, kids need cues of what is funny. It is your job as the reader to be the laugh track to the book. Stop and laugh when something funny happens, or a character makes a silly pun.
It will make the experience more enjoyable for you, and if you laugh your kids will definitely join in. So, laugh it up, even if you don’t think it’s THAT funny.
You know those well meaning old people who say, “Ohh, it’s ok to not be perfect, you’re such a great mom!” when they see you on the floor in the cereal aisle at Meijer, frantically setting back up the dozen boxes of Lucky Charms your toddler knocked down?
Or, have you seen the pictures on Pinterest of moms holding darling toddlers who always look like them with the text overlay, “Perfection is overrated,” even though the picture looks pretty much perfect?
I read or hear stuff like that all of the time.
Most of the time, I just want to say, “Could you not. I have a bunch of kids. My husband travels for work all of the time. If I am not perfect, the world will end. I wish it weren’t that way, because I just want to watch reality TV and eat Peanut Butter M&Ms and not think about the fact that my couch smells faintly of pee and nothing seems to help.”
However, I am working on fighting the urge to say that, and letting the message sink in. It is ok to not be perfect.
I my kids can feel my tension when I am striving for perfect. It’s like they sense my tight shoulders and rushed voice when I try so hard.
Just doing my best is better for all of us. Reading aloud is a time when I don’t have to worry about perfection. I just have to snuggle my kids and read as long as we feel like it.
There’s no magic book that “every good mom is reading aloud.” There’s no perfect number of minutes to read a day. It’s just family reading time.
So, add me to the chorus of voices telling you to stop striving for perfect. Especially don’t strive for perfect when you are reading aloud, because there is no such thing.
Relax into reading aloud. Don’t force it, enjoy it.
Those old people who have no filter are right, “It is ok to not be perfect, you’re such a great mom!”
Putting these tips for reading aloud into practice will get easier as you read more. If reading aloud to your kids hasn’t been what you pictured, it’s not too late! You can make reading aloud an easy activity that everyone enjoys.
Put these tips for reading aloud to good use with your family, today. They will make a difference in your read aloud time! Also, send jam, because I can’t be trusted to make it.