It might seem almost silly to ask how to read a book to young children. After all, you just open the book and read, right? Well, in fact there are many factors, including obvious ones and subtle ones, that affect the overall reading experience for both the child and parent.
The first important factor to consider is the physical environment. Whether sitting or laying down, it’s imperative that both child and parent be comfortable and relaxed, that there be ample lighting, and that the book (and the hands holding it) be positioned in such a way that it’s easy for the child to see all details on the pages. Parents should be cognizant of the angle at which they are holding the book because there’s a natural tendency to direct the pages toward your own eyes when reading rather than toward the child’s eyes.
The second important consideration is for there to be no distractions, such as a TV on in the background or a cell phone beckoning the parent to answer or check a message. A distraction-free environment allows both parent and child to maintain focus so they can get fully immersed in the story and maximize enjoyment and learning.
The third essential component of an ideal experience reading books to children is to be conscientious about the way you are reading out loud. Specifically:
- Use slightly exaggerated intonation, and in some cases even facial expressions and/or hand gestures that demonstrate actions happening in the story, in order to be expressive and animated
- Enunciate clearly but naturally so the child can fully understand the words
- Use a variety of intonations each time you re-read the same book so the child can be exposed to a variety of ways of expressing the same thing
- Have energy in your voice
- Use pauses and varied reading pace and volume to accentuate various elements of the story
- And, by all means do not read too quickly lest the child not have time to fully absorb all the fascinating pictures and words to which he or she has his or her eyes and ears tuned.
So, in summary, the optimal way to read books to young children is to do it purposefully: prepare an environment that provides physical comfort and is free of distractions, and pay attention to all aspects of how you are using your voice and body.