1. MAKE it a priority.
It will never happen if YOU don’t consider it to be worthwhile. If you’re not convinced of the value of reading aloud, read the article 4 Reasons to NEVER Stop Reading to Your Kids. I would argue that there are few more important things you can do as a family for your family. When you’re a believer, that genuine enthusiasm translates to them.
2. MAKE it a habit.
It will also never happen if you don’t purposefully set aside time for it. Make it the ½ hour after dinner clean-up. Make it the last ½ hour before bedtime. But get them used to the idea that it’s part of your daily routine. Maybe everyone can pick a favorite cozy spot where they can settle in each time to listen. And if your Wednesdays or Fridays are particularly busy with lots of other outside activities, that can be a scheduled day that you skip your reading time, but being aware of that helps you plan to make it happen the other days. And don’t be surprised when they start requesting, “Please…just a couple pages…” even on the day you’ve planned to skip!
3. MAKE creative use of time.
Sometimes I know we’ll be having company over for dinner, or we have other plans that will make our scheduled reading time difficult to meet. Those days I will sometimes read to them while they’re eating their lunch, or have my oldest read a chapter aloud to the rest of us in the car on our way to the store, or the post office, or whatever. Find those moments – in the car can really be great – when you can squeeze in a few pages at least. It will keep them connected to the story. But you will find it also keeps you connected to them, and them to to each other. You’re sharing something, rather than fighting over the cup holder, or having each one occupied with his or her own phone or video game.
4. MAKE sure to have a dictionary on hand.
This is just a small, practical point that I’ve found helpful. It’s takes the pressure off of you, as the parent, to know the answer every time your kid repeats a word you just read and says, “What’s that mean?” It’s good for them to know that some words are new or difficult for you, too, and that you love to keep learning! It’s also a great exercise for them to take turns looking up words and become increasingly familiar with the usefulness of a dictionary.
5. MAKE it fun.
I will say this the best way I know how: DO THE VOICES! It doesn’t matter if you think you’re good at it. Your kids will LOVE to hear you try! They, and you, will get more out of any story if you attempt (at least occasionally) to have a little fun with the characters’ voices. And even when you’re not doing any certain character voices, be sure to alter your tempo, pitch, and volume to reflect the action of the story and keep their interest. You can experiment with other ways to make the time fun for everyone – like acting out scenes, or giving little ones coloring pages that reinforce something from your current story to color as they listen.
6. MAKE everyone get involved.
This time together as a family is useful in SO many different ways, it’s great for helping them with listening skills, but also speaking skills. As you take turns reading aloud, the reader gets practice pronouncing difficult words, annunciating, experimenting with his or her voice to sound authentic and convincing (skills you want them to build for any kind of public speaking), they are growing their vocabulary, and they are sharpening their critical thinking skills. So, try to get them to take turns – even if it’s only a paragraph at first – and read to everyone else.
If you have one that isn’t yet comfortable reading aloud, or is too young, be sure to get that one involved by asking him or her questions about the story and characters. Even that one can narrate some of the action back to you or can give an opinion about the “bad guy,” or can verbalize what they think will happen in the end, or what they hope will happen!
7. MAKE a list.
It can happen that you begin this journey of reading aloud, hit upon a great book, read it together, and love it, then quit because you just don’t know what to read next. Don’t let this happen to you! At some point just sit down and generate a quick list of books that have been recommended to you, or that you’ve always wanted to read, or some of your own childhood favorites that you could share with your family. Don’t worry too much about the comprehension of the youngest children. Choose stories that will appeal to your oldest children and you will be amazed at what even the little ones can glean from it. But remember, even simpler stories that the little ones enjoy can contain great themes and truths that would make them valuable as a family read-aloud. If you struggle through a book and no one seems to have liked it, that’s okay, Discuss why you didn’t care for it and go in a new direction with your next choice. So get a few on your list, and get reading…aloud!