'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 12 June 2017

Guest Post: Susan Stephenson on Reading Aloud to Toddlers

I adore reading aloud. I could tell you that’s because I’m truly passionate about sharing books with kids, and encouraging them to love reading. That’s true.

But I suspect it’s also because I am a Big Ham. Reading stories to kids at my local library gives me a captive audience and I relish every moment. I can dance, prance, sing and do my famous kookaburra impression to my heart’s content.

Sitting in my little chair to share a story with the toddlers has taught me lots, too:

I have learned to COMPROMISE. Young kids often have strong ideas about books they would like me to read aloud. Frequently these involve books with characters they recognize from TV or movies on the cover. I have strong ideas about what I want to read too, and mostly they don’t involve books with TV characters or a sparkly cover. So I will accept one such book, and share some of its pictures while asking questions like 'Who’s this?' 'What’s she doing?' 'Uh-oh, now what’s happening?' Then we have time to read all of one of the beautifully crafted, creative, enriching but probably not sparkly books I’ve chosen. It works for me, AND the kids.

I have learned to be FLEXIBLE. Sometimes the story I have chosen simply does not work for those children on ta particular day. All my spidery senses tell me I am losing their interest, so before a full scale riot can take place, I do a rapid finish and switch to a different activity. A song, a rhyme or a game can bring a much-needed change of pace, and also contributes to the children’s literacy skills. I always have several books in my bag, and choose those I think will best suit the kids who arrive for Story Time.

I have learned to be ENTERTAINING. Okay, I already thought I was entertaining, but soon learnt from the wriggling, rolling, talking and yawning that I was delusional. I make sure I read the story ahead of time, and then use all my dramatic skills to bring it to life for the children. I use my voice, my face and my body language. I pause for effect. I make my eyes as big as saucers or flap my chooky wings. Sometimes we re-tell the story, perhaps with a felt board, or we act part of it out. Basically, I am doing what I can to help kids love story, in all its wonderful iterations.

I have learned to be PHYSICAL. At my advanced age, sitting, even in a little chair, is a comforting thing. But toddlers don’t want to sit. They want to move, dodge, skip, jump, prance, shout, pretend, and play. So that’s what I do too. We roar like lions, we stamp like giants and we dance like there’s no tomorrow. I make sure to seek out books, songs and rhymes with opportunities for movement and noise. It’s just like a gym workout but without the lycra.

I have learned to be DISCERNING. Toddlers like short, punchy books. The shorter, the better. Much as I love some of the books for four and five year olds, it’s not fair to ask toddlers to sustain concentration for a long time, particularly if they are kids who are not used to being read to. I grab books that kids will laugh at, books with large clear illustrations, books with good rhyme and rhythm, books that are cleverly thought out for children of this age. Toddlers also love repetition and joining in.

Does your local library have a Story Time? Volunteering to read aloud to kids might bring you the same joy it does me! You’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped children along the pathway to Reading.

Here are some books I would recommend for really engaging toddlers in a read-aloud:

Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek

The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak

Go to Sleep, Jessie! by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood 

Please, Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe 

The Wrong Book by Nick Bland 

This is a Ball by Beck and Matt Stanton 

Mo Willems’s books e.g. The Pigeon Needs a Bath 

Bear Make Den by Jane Goodwin and Michael Wagner, illustrated by Andrew Joyner 

You will find lots more books to browse here at Kids Book Reviews, and also at TheBook Chook.

The Book Chook blog brings tips to parents and teachers about encouraging kids to read, write, create and learn. You'll find book reviews of wonderful children's literature, educational software reviews, and explanations of how to use great online resources with your kids. The Book Chook is the blog of Susan Stephenson, an Australian teacher and writer, who believes children engage more in their own learning when they enjoy themselves.