Tips for Reading Picture Books with Children

by Kimberly Orchard January 01, 2018

Tips for Reading Picture Books with Children

Reading aloud to children is my all-time favourite thing to do, but sometimes it does not go smoothly. Babies slobber on books. Toddlers try to eat them entirely. And school-aged kids have better things to do. Ouch.

I've experienced all of these reactions. But since then, I've watched daycare workers, parents, and librarians all successfully read picture books to children over and over. I took notes and they helped me. I hope they help you too! 

Choose The Right Book

Choose stories that...

  1. Align with the interests of the child. For example, if the child loves dinosaurs, head to your local library for a pile of dinosaur books. 
  2. Address a problem for the child. If s/he has trouble napping, try to find a story where a character uses a new strategy to fall asleep. 
  3. Prepare the child for the future. Let's say you're going on vacation soon. Find a book about airports and help the child prepare for what's to come by showing them what airports look like, what they do, how people act while in the airport, etc. 

Introduce the Book

Here are some ideas sorted by age...

  1. Babies. Allow them to touch the book and look at the colours. Describe what they're touching and feeling. 
  2. Toddlers. Excitedly point out images to toddlers and ask if they know what they are. Try asking the child to guess the topic of the book based on what they see.
  3. Preschoolers. As children get older, you can ask them more in-depth questions like: Can you guess what this book is about? What do you know about this topic? What other books have we read about this topic?
  4. School age. Introduce more details about the book such as the author, illustrator, and genre of the book. Maybe talk about why you chose the book, what you like about the author or illustrator, etc.

While You Read...

Reading should be a relaxed, enjoyable process. The child needs enough time to hear your words, see the pictures and sort through the information. Here are some things you can do while reading to enrich the child’s experience:

  1. Ask questions. What do they think is going to happen?
  2. Answer questions. If a child has a question, pause your reading to answer. Questions are an opportunity for understanding. The child may need clarification, time to process the information, or an opportunity to draw connections between the book and real life.
  3. Give clues. Emphasize important parts of the story to help the child understand what is happening. 
  4. Point at pictures and words. Help the child learn words and images by pointing to words as you read and identifying corresponding images. You can also draw attention to beautiful illustrations.

Make it Enjoyable!

The goal is to teach children that reading is fun, so...

  1. Be goofy. Most children respond well when adults get silly while reading. It models that reading is enjoyable, plus they get to see an adult acting wacky which is always a plus.
  2. Add some drama. Give characters different voices. Gasp! Sigh. Grumble, when needed. This will help increase engagement in the story and will be more interesting to listen to.
  3. Raise and lower your voice. Being quiet at sad or soft parts and getting louder at exciting parts helps the child’s engagement. If you are trying to get a child to sleep, becoming increasingly quiet and slow by the end of the story will help.
  4. Make sound effects. Add to the dramatics of the story by using noises like car beeps and cow moos. Why not?
  5. Use facial expressions. Using facial expressions while reading can help children learn about emotions. Frown when a character is sad, smile at the end when the character resolves a problem, etc.

Reflect on Ideas

Engaging in critical analysis of written text is a skill that our education system greatly emphasizes. We can start teaching children to think about what they read by asking simple questions, such as:

  1. Babies: Was that a good story? Should we read it again?
  2. Toddlers: Who was your favourite character? What was your favourite part?
  3. Preschoolers: What was this story about? What did the main character learn? 
  4. School age: How would you have reacted in that situation? Can you think of a time that something similar happened in your life? Have you ever felt similar to that character?

Reading with children should be an enjoyable experience for both children and readers. Be prepared for the child to ask you to read again, and again, and again. Think of it as positive feedback. You are inspiring a love of reading! 

If you have any additional tips you would like to add, please comment below! 

Kimberly Orchard
Kimberly Orchard


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