We’ve written a lot about the joy and benefits of reading aloud with kids.
But what makes ‘good’ reading aloud? And how do you handle tricky situations like reading to a wriggly, jiggly child who can’t keep still, or reading to more than one child at once?
Earlier this year, Melissa of Honey Bee Books posted an article about attending storytime with the extraordinarily talented Australian author Boori Monty Pryor.
Melissa says Boori ‘is the most charismatic, passionate and engaging storyteller I have had the pleasure to listen to. He weaved his storytelling magic and captured the imaginations of the entire audience, who all happily joined in the storytelling experience. As I looked around the young audience, they were simply spellbound! Laughter filled the library!’
I’ve also been lucky enough to watch Boori perform on several occasions. I’ve seen him tell stories to children of many different ages, in large and small groups. I’ve watched him keep a group of international publishers enthralled (they came from places as distant as South America, Iceland and the UK; and all of them – even the most corporate, navy-jacketed types – got up and “did the actions” when Boori asked).
Of course, very few of us will ever perform to the sorts of challenging audiences Boori does! (If you feel a little nervous reading aloud to your own child, remember they will be your most adoring, uncritical audience, ever.)
But there are definitely some tips we can learn from his performances.
The first is: have fun! If you’re having fun, your enjoyment will be evident to your child and they’ll associate reading with good things.
Boori plays a lot of gentle tricks and makes jokes with his audience. Melissa of Honey Bee Books recounts this one:
‘After introducing himself, Boori asked the audience a series of questions, getting everyone to put up their hands up in response:
‘Hands up if you love your Mum?
‘Hands up if you love your Dad?
‘Hands up if you love eating chocolate?
‘Hands up if you love eating chocolate frogs?
‘Hands up if you love eating real frogs? EWWW!’
When reading at home you can use funny voices, pause dramatically before rhyming words to give kids a chance to predict and say them out loud, hunt for favourite elements in the illustrations and play games searching for letters on each page (such as the first letter of your child’s name).
Boori’s joke about frogs also set the scene for the particular book he was reading: My Girragundji, the story of an Aboriginal boy and his friendship with a little green tree frog.
If your kids are a little bit wriggly and jiggly and find it hard to settle, then introducing some of the book’s themes and plot before you start reading (‘this is a book about …’) can invite them into the story and help them keep track of the plot.
Something else Boori is terrific at is dealing with the fidgets by getting kids (and adults) up and moving, performing simple actions and dances. This is a great strategy when reading to a large group. And if you have a fidgety kid at home, letting them move around (or just giving them something to do with their hands while listening) might help. You can also get them involved by asking them to show you things in the illustrations, or selecting books like the I Spy series, Get Out of My Bath or Press Here, which specifically invite readers to interact with the story.
Boori is very much aware that there are elements in each story and performance which have universal appeal, and others which speak to specific age groups. He includes both in his storytelling.
Which leads us to the challenge of how to read aloud to two or more kids of different ages?
At home, one simply strategy is to alternate who gets to choose the book to be read each day or each bedtime. Older kids can be given the choice to read their own book quietly while their younger sibling listens to a story (but will often actually enjoy ‘listening in’). Younger kids might need another quiet activity, like drawing, to keep them occupied while their big brother or sister listens to their story.
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If you’d like more tips on reading aloud, author Mem Fox has posted her ‘Ten Commandments’ here and the website brightly.com regularly posts handy tips.
And if you’re interested in the benefits of reading with kids, check out:
For more on reading aloud:
Our article on how books help develop children’s empathy
Our list of seven great reasons to read with your kids