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Make story time count: Seven tips for reading to kids

Jennifer Michelle Lyons, MD

Reading to children is a great way to squeeze in some extra snuggling and bonding time while promoting healthy brain development. But did you know that how you read and what you do during story time can be just as important as the book itself?

As a pediatrician, I work with parents to not only explain why reading is vital, but to show how to use books with babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children. Many of my tips are based on research from the literacy non-profit Reading is Fundamental.

Here are some simple ways to keep children engaged and learning with every story:

Start early. Let young babies and children play with pages and lift flaps. Point at pictures, make sounds, and recite rhymes. Learning how books work while enjoying your attention is the first step toward developing a love of reading.

Adopt different voices. Make books come alive by changing your voice for different characters. This keeps children interested and helps them understand the story and different points of view. If voices aren’t your thing, try using inflection, enthusiasm, and dramatic pauses.

Choose a variety of books. Introduce kids to fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biographies, and autobiographies. Testing different genres exposes children to new topics and ideas. They—and you—might be surprised by what you find enjoyable as a family.

Read harder stories. Introduce new vocabulary and familiarize children with more complex sentence structures and plot lines by reading books that are a few levels above them.

Create space to talk. Have children predict what will happen next in a story and help them look closely at pictures for clues. Talk about how what’s happening in a book relates to their life or other books you’ve read together. Ask them to share their reactions and feelings. The ability to draw connections is an important skill in school.

Read at a set time. Establishing a regular time to read each day shows children that reading is something to look forward to. By making it part of your routine, you prevent it from slipping to the wayside.

Get artsy. Use the books you’re reading to inspire drawings or art projects. Children can draw characters or illustrate their favorite part of the story.

These are just a few of the ways you can make story time more interesting and rewarding. For additional reading techniques and ideas, talk to your pediatrician.

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Dr. Jennifer Lyons is a pediatrician at The Vancouver Clinic. She enjoys partnering with families to promote their children’s overall health and well-being.