You’re too tired, it was a tough day at work, there’s washing to sort, it’s late, you need to make dinner, you’ve got a headache. Any of this sound familiar? Is it true or are you making excuses because, deep down, you don’t think you have the skills to make your child’s bedtime stories extra-special? In truth, you’re not even sure you know how to read stories.
You’re not alone – far from it – and the good news is that we can help! But before we do so, we need to stress that it’s perfectly normal to lack confidence in reading aloud to your children. It’s not something they teach in ante-natal classes. Also, it’s not something most people have a diploma in and, unless you have a penchant for performing arts, mastering silly voices and maintaining them for a whole book or chapter can be testing for the best of us.
Believe it or not, reading stories aloud to children isn’t a natural born talent. If you’re lucky, you might have warm memories of someone special reading to you as a child. If you’re very lucky, you might be naturally gifted. But for many of us, mastering how to read stories is something that comes with patience, perseverance and a lot of practice. Oh, and you’ll get plenty of the latter (see our thoughts on repetition)!
Here are Storytime magazine’s top tips for how to read stories…
1. Timing is Everything
It’s not that all those excuses about housework, time running out and tiredness aren’t valid – we all experience them. It’s just that if you allow them to, they can permanently get in the way of sharing something special with your child – the magic of reading together. Be strict, give yourself a cut-off point to start reading and make sure you stick to it. Most importantly, don’t do it when your child is too sleepy. Before bedtime is ideal, but there are no rules. If you can fit in a story session elsewhere – at breakfast, before lunch, after school – do it then. Most of all, make a point of being fully in the moment. Don’t allow yourself to feel stressed or preoccupied by anything else. Don’t rush it. This is the key to how to read stories. Everything else can wait.
2. Comfort is King
Kids will read anywhere, but grown-ups deserve a bit of comfort, don’t you think? While we’re big believers in storytelling chairs, any old chair or sofa will do, as long as you’re in a position where you won’t get a dead arm/leg/cricked neck. It’s stating the obvious, but this is supposed to be enjoyable for both of you, and reading perched on a toddler chair or contorted into an uncomfortable position isn’t conducive to happy story times. A word of warning: too much comfort can be a bad thing if you’re tired. This is from someone who has, in the past, fallen asleep mid-sentence.
3. Veto the Voices
Some parents and teachers love acting out the silly voices, some hate it. Kids adore hearing them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get sick of you reading to them if you don’t partake. They will love the fact that you’re reading to them whatever your approach – you are, after all, taking them to amazing imaginary worlds and introducing them to awesome characters. What’s not to like? So if you can’t do accents and don’t feel like being the wicked witch or the snarling wolf, don’t do it. Maybe make your voice a bit higher or lower for different characters if you can manage it, but otherwise, don’t put pressure on yourself. Just enjoy telling the stories. (By the way, funny voices and accents – if overdone – can be distracting and confusing to some kids.)
4. Stuff Feeling Self-Conscious
Maybe you don’t do the accents or add noisy sound effects or use props when you’re reading because it makes you feel silly? Well, we’re not living in the Victorian age, and if you can’t make a fool of yourself in front of your loved ones, when can you? If feeling self-conscious is the thing preventing you from reading bedtime stories to your child, sit down with them, read and try just one of the three things listed above. Look at the expression of curiosity and joy on your child’s face as you do so, then forget your inhibitions, put your ego aside and let go. Your child won’t judge you. They will treasure it, because they just learnt how entertaining and brilliant you are. All because of a story.
4.5. Don’t Forget to Breathe
Bear with me on this one. I used to have a real problem when reading to my child – I couldn’t stop yawning. I was never bored with the books. It didn’t matter what time of the day it was. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t tired. Then I realised that I was yawning because my brain was literally gasping for air. I was getting so engrossed in reading the story that I was forgetting to breathe – and the yawning, in turn, was making me groggy. I concluded that this was a bad thing and that breathing, in general, is a good idea, so every time I felt a yawn developing, I took a breath. It works – try it. I’ve almost broken the habit, but I highly recommend breathing for continued happy story times!
5. Don’t Make Comparisons
If you’ve seen a professional storyteller, you’ll know that they are all super-human and deserve knighthoods. They carry stories in their heads equivalent to shelf loads of library books, and they’re incredible at sharing those stories. It’s what they do for a living. Likewise, actors and many librarians, who tell stories for the love of it. They are experts in how to read stories and you should absolutely not compare your skills to theirs. It’s fine to pick up some tips or try out some of their ideas, but the reason your child loves you reading to them is because it’s close, intimate, together time with you. You really can’t lose and any reading together is better than no reading at all.
This is how to read stories. There’s no science (unless you count breathing), it’s all sensible, achievable stuff and anyone can do it. But I’ve missed one critical bit of advice: Enjoy It! Even if you initially dread the idea of reading, when you see the look of captivation and enjoyment on the face of the child you’re reading to, you’d have to be a robot not to realise the true value of reading together and reading for pleasure. Or, as we like to put it, reading for joy. So approach reading to children as something to look forward to and enjoy. Your joy will be infectious and that’s truly how to read stories.
Happy reading all!