Everyday I read as much as I possibly can with the children. Be it children’s books at bed time, reading my books aloud as they play, signs, magazines or even recipes. It’s become second nature.
Each day before we settle down to sleep we have story hour. The boys love choosing their stories for the evening so usually we all get ready for bed, grab our books, climb under the covers and all lay down to read together. Recently however within a few pages the fidgeting began and before I knew it the boys were climbing about and playing again. They weren’t listening at all and it became a point of frustration for us all. I knew they loved their stories but somehow I just couldn’t hold their attention and keep them engaged through to the end.
Then the penny dropped.
One evening I’d been thinking over ideas related to setting up a community toddler story time session. Visualising how I might organise the sessions, what books I would include and what activities we could add along side them. How would I keep 10-15 little children engaged through an hours session?
I could see myself animating and acting out parts of the stories. Asking the children questions, pointing out things in the pictures, discussing colours, using puppets or props, getting the children to join in on sound effects or actions. Adding some music or movement activities and perhaps even some craft projects.
Time was running by and it was getting closer to our bed time story hour and as the children chose their books I had a huge light bulb moment. I realised that the reason my children were becoming so disengaged was because I had become disinterested. Going through the motions because I should read to them not because I was excited to.
Laying down and reading stories is cosy but there are some fundamental flaws in that process. Firstly laying down relaxes you, your voice relaxes and becomes less variable and when you are lounging side by side, although the children can see the pictures, they can not see your facial expressions or read your body language. As humans we both tell and understand stories not only through the words, voice tones and variations but through our expressions, movements and hand gestures. These factors add another dimension and level of communication which draws in the listeners attention.
Children can see and respond positively mirroring our energy when we are facing them, sitting up right and using our entire bodies to bring the words on a page to life .
So if you want to reengage your children in story time and reignite that love of reading together as a family here’s a few things you might try:
- Sit opposite facing your children instead of beside them.
- Hold the book in one hand facing away from you and where everybody can see it. This leaves your other hand free for making gestures or pointing to things.
- Even if it feels completely silly try making different voices for your characters or at the least varying the tone of your voice through out the story.
- Smile lots. Show the kids how much enjoyment you get from reading too.
- Make eye contact whenever possible.
- Act it out.
- Encourage the children to join in For example if the crocodile says snap, get the children to snap their hands together imitating the crocodile
- Ask questions every now and again. “Why do you think…?” Or “what would you do?”
- Point out pictures or ask the children to find things on the page ie “Can you find the blue fish? Where is it? Show me.”
- Slow down. Talk clearly and expressively.
This last point is important. Sometimes as an adult especially when we’ve been asked to read a specific book a 100 times over we rush through it. I mean we know it off by heart, it’s short and perhaps we are a little bored of the story ourselves but guess what our children aren’t. Young kids thrive off repetition. By reading the same stories over and over they improve their memorisation skills, begin to recognise words that are repeated and they begin to recognise patterns and orders. They find great enjoyment in anticipating and knowing what comes next. When we rush through a reading or mumble it so that words aren’t clear and easily audible firstly children pick up on our disinterest and mirror it and secondly because they can’t hear each syllable they miss out on all those patterns, order, rhymes and alliteration that helps build their language and thinking skills.
As soon as I realised where I had been going wrong I began putting these things into practice and the very first night that I did there was an immediate difference in the little ones attention spans. They were engaged 100% smiling and laughing asking questions and joining in with the actions. They were beating me to phrases they knew were coming. Since then bedtime story hour hasn’t been a chore anymore. There hasn’t been the same level of frustration. It’s been extremely fun and bonding for us all.
So if your struggling to get through an entire story without you or your children loosing interest try the tips above. If all 10 seem a bit too much just pick one or two to begin with and I’m sure you’ll see an immediate improvement.