How to Read to a Child: Tips and Tricks to Get Them Engaged

Last Updated on August 30, 2016 by Diane Hoffmaster

Have you ever thought about how to read to a child to really get them engaged with a story? When my children were young, I was passionate about reading to them.  Their library of Little Golden Books was out of control and it even included a few of my own favorites from when I was young.  I will never forget the joy that all of us felt as we read ‘The Monster at the End of This Book’ with furry old Grover.  Or the story of Two Little Kittens with eyes of blue, one was named Twinkle and the other named Boo.  We spent hours every week curled up in our reading corner, entertaining ourselves with stories of princesses, pirates and exotic sea creatures.  I knew that reading to my kids would bring them a lifetime of benefits. However, not every child starts out life with their own personal library.  I am going to share a few tips on how to read to a child to get them engaged and provide a lifetime of benefits.  These tips were shared with me by Doug Lemov, co author of the book (affiliate link here!)  Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy.

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How to Read to a Child. Tips and Tricks to get them engaged

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Did you know that more than half the children in the country will not hear a bedtime story tonight? Some children begin kindergarten having been read to as few as 25 hours.  That is 25 hours in almost 5 or 6 YEARS!  Underprivileged children have it even worse. By age four, low-income children have heard an average 32 million fewer words than their peers. That lack of being read to has long term consequences. If a child is not reading at grade level by the end of the first grade, then there is an 88% probability the child will not be reading at grade level by the end of the fourth grade.  So, how can you really instill a love of reading in your child so that they come back for more again and again?  Here are a few tips!


  How to Read to a Child: Tips to Get Them Engaged

1. GET COMFORTABLE. Stories have been told and read over and over again because they are pleasurable and because sharing them draws people together. This is not necessarily obvious to children. At home, it’s good to mix reading with warmth and affection. Express that in the way you sit. Cuddle up on the couch or in a comfy chair. Snuggle with your children. Or lie on the living room floor while reading aloud. Even if your child is behind in reading and there’s pressure to make progress, try to make reading time feel comfortable and caring.

How to Read to a Child: Tips and Tricks to Get Them Engaged

2. READ SLOWLY. Stop for a couple of seconds about every half page or so. The words and the story are more complex than your child may be used to. Give her time to absorb it. Stop and look at her and smile occasionally. Read slowly, too. Nice and steady to let the words sink in. There’s no rush.

3. EXPRESS YOURSELF (as much as you can). The power of reading aloud for kids is in developing their ear for language, for what words sound like and how sentences work. Capturing that is key and it’s simpler than it might sound. You don’t have to act out the roles and make it theater, you just have to capture the sound of language and the cadence of words—which ones run together, which ones get a bit of emphasis.

4. GIVE THEM A FEW WORDS TOO. Kids love to get involved. Say, “And the next chapter is called…” and they get to read the title of the chapter to you. Look for little moments when your child can help you read a more advanced book and see that it’s within his or her range someday. Even if it’s just reading the word ‘I’ or ‘and,’ it helps. “See, you’re on your way!” is a powerful message.

How to Read to a Child: Tips and Tricks to Get Them Engaged

5. DON’T FREAK OUT. Ok maybe you’re great at reading aloud. But maybe you’re not. Maybe you fear it. Is it ok if you’re not confident in your own reading? Yes. But more important than telling you it’s okay, there’s a way to make you feel more confident and therefore more likely to read to your kids: preview the section you are going to read. The night before you read to your child, take the book to bed and read the part you’ll read the next night. If you’ve read it through beforehand, you’ll remember even if you don’t realize it. That way, you know where the book is going and will be ready for tough spots or content that’s challenging. If you’re nervous about reading, it will help you as well. As will starting simply. Reading to your child is a marathon not a sprint so it’s fine if you need some me to build your own comfort and skill. Just please don’t let that fear stand between your child and what will help them most.

How to Read to a Child: Tips and Tricks to Get Them Engaged

When you learn how to read to a child and really engage them in the story, they will begin initiating story time all on their own.  They will read to YOU, their siblings, and even their stuffed animals.  Because they have found joy inside a book and want to share that joy with others.  That joy will bring them a lifetime of benefits by boosting their imagination and improving their grades at school.

I want to thank Doug for sharing these tips with me and reminding me how much I loved story time with my children. Get more tips on how to read to a child in his book, Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy.
How to Read to a Child: Tips and Tricks to Get Them Engaged

Doug Lemov (with co-authors Colleen Driggs and Erica Woolway) is the author of Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy. For more information, please visit, and connect with Doug on Twitter, @doug_lemov.

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