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How to read so your kids will listen

Make storytime magical with these simple tips

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Storytime is an oasis of calm, when the outside world turns off, and a family takes a journey together to imagined worlds. The list of things to bring along on that journey is quite simple: you, the kids, and a couple of books. Storytime is the most portable, adaptable of family rituals, and here are some tips to ensure the journey is smooth for everyone.

  1. Create a space in your home where the stories happen, where arrival is a signal that the day is winding down. This can be a comfy couch or chair, or somebody’s bed. The best spaces have dimmed lighting, provide opportunities for cuddling and are free of distractions. A pile of books should be close at hand, a mixture of new tales and familiar favourites.
  1. Don’t censor, but curate. Give your kids access to the books that they want to read, but acknowledge that not all books are created equal. Leave the noisy battery-powered books in the playroom, save the books that wind your kids up for morning or afternoon. Some books aren’t books as much as marketing devices or morality lessons in disguise, and some books just aren’t very good — skip these ones at story-time. Also skip the books that you don’t enjoy, because the enthusiasm required for successful reading aloud cannot be faked. Storytime deserves only the very best books. For tips on how to find these best books, consult the experts: your local librarian or bookseller. Also, make regular library visits to change your books up often.
  1. You don’t have to be a genius with voices. If you happen to be a genius with voices, then dramatize away, but those of us who are not-so inclined have other tools at our disposal. Use the natural expressiveness you’d employ in everyday conversation. Focus on punctuation and line-breaks — here, the author is giving us a clue as to when to skip a beat for emphasis. Speed up and slow down your reading to create suspense. Vary between soft and louder tones. And pay attention to the ending. Drag that last sentence out as long as you can, and pause with the book open for a moment or two so that you all can reflect upon what you’ve just experienced.
  1. Make it fun. Although it is through storytime that your kids will be awakened to the power of stories and discover why learning to read might be a worthwhile endeavour, this is not the time for beginning-readers’ skills to be put to the test. At storytime, the pressure is off, and the point is for everyone to enjoy themselves.
  1. Make it work. Adapt the storytime ritual to suit your family’s needs. Read in the language you’re most comfortable with. If a busy schedule necessitates it, read together at the dinner table, listen to audio books in the car, read together on Saturday mornings snuggled in bed. It really doesn’t matter when or where it’s done, the point is just to do it.