Question: My 5-year-old daughter loves to be read to, but my 2-year-old son gets restless and sometimes won't sit for an entire story. Can you give me some advice?
Answer: Reading aloud to children can inspire them to be readers, but there is one underlying principle - it should be an enjoyable shared experience. What is good for a 5-year-old is not necessarily good for a 2-year-old. However, while it may sometimes be preferable to read to each child separately, there are also many benefits in family reading time.
Begin by scheduling a time when your child is alert and rested, and when there are no interruptions. Keep the session brief, usually 20 minutes or less. Two-year-olds pretend to "read" books. They like to name objects in the pictures and to comment on the characters in the stories, so talk about the story you are about to read. Look at the pictures and discuss similar experiences your family may have had. Try to select and discuss books connected to your child's life, like Helen Oxenbury's "I Can; I Hear; I See; I Touch."
Read books about siblings, like the Berenstain Bears or Rosemary Wells' "Max" series.
Read unfamiliar books silently first so you can be ready with special effects (such as a knock at the door). Exaggerate and change your tone of voice or ham it up. "Bark" if it says bark. Give your son crayons sometimes, and let him draw a part of the story as you read. If possible, include father. Boys especially need to see fathers and other men reading. Encourage your son and daughter to take turns being the storyteller. Prompt them by introducing the books or looking at the pictures, and then expand and elaborate on what they said. Try using wordless books such as "Pancakes for Breakfast" by Tomie de Paola or "Deep in the Forest" by B. Turkle. You can find good booklists on the internet, such as the New York Public Library (www nypl.org/ branch/kids/gloria.html).
Most importantly, if your son is not paying attention, do not withdraw reading as a punishment. This destroys all the positive effects of reading aloud. The foundation for learning is built before your child ever goes to school, so keep reading to your children.
- Susan Rapp,
Village Reading Center