How to properly read books to preschoolers

Author: Afroditi Charalampaki –

Reading books to preschool children- children who have not yet been systematically taught and they have not practiced the written language- is apart from entertaining, relaxing and enjoying, an important practice of familiarity with reading. In order for this pre-reading activity to serve its teaching function, the adult who reads books to children must adapt the reading to the children’s’ level of perception. How can they do that? Here it follows some ideas …

Before reading

First, we make sure to speak using a specific vocabulary so that young children become familiar with the technical language of reading. That means we show them what is the book cover and what the back cover, what is the sheet and what the page, where the title is written on and where the story summary, where’s the text place and where’s the illustration. We also explain them the meanings of the author, illustrator and publisher. 

After reading the title of the story to the children, we can ask them to tell us freely what they think the book is about. In this way, children cultivate their imagination while at the same time they understand the content of the title. Respectively, we can ask children to flip through the book and tell us a story inspired by the images they see. Through this activity, children exercise in observation and learn to recognize the subtle differences among the images. All these playful activities clearly do not aim for children to guess the “right” story. In their replies, there is no ”right or wrong answer’’, but only room for free expression. These exercises are suggested as pre-reading activities. If they are done after reading, it is probable that children will reproduce what they read. Of course, this is an important objective, but it serves for another pedagogical goal.

In addition to that, before we start reading, we should show children how to hold the book the right way, what’s the right direction of reading, and also make sure that, we as well as children sit comfortable, in way that children can see in the book if they want to.

During reading

Every time we read a story to children, we want to communicate it with them. The understanding of a particular story is our primary goal. So we are free to stop reading whenever we face a difficult or rare word for children and explain it. When there is quick action or the book is addressed to an older age than that of the children we are reading for, we pause and explain to children the episode in simpler words or we ask them whether they understand it or not. At this point, the illustration of the story helps us a great deal. After reading one or two pages, we can show the pictures and children repeat the story based on the heroes depicted.

We read the story slowly and clearly. When we read a story to children, we are free to use what voice we want for each hero, to exaggerate as much as we want with the exclamations, and to add sounds to wherever we think it would be a good fit, for example, a sound to depict the waves of the sea, a horse’s galloping, the sound of rain, etc. We are free to sing any rhyme song or to compose a song along with the children at the moment of the reading. After all this, reading becomes more graphic and children’s excitement for the book becomes even greater. 

If children are about to attend the elementary school, it is important to show them by using our hand what we are reading, that is to follow with the forefinger the line and the word we are in. This practice is important for children to realize that these “incomprehensible symbols” correspond to the words we use in our speech. This is also the way, in which the teacher of primary school will ask children to read, showing each word they pronounce.

After reading

After reading, we can do nothing and the children’s experience with the book ends there. It will be definitely completed. We can either re-read the same book again as many times as children ask us to do so, or choose not to read the same book and go on with a new one.

However, we can also be involved in countless activities using the book story. First, we ask children whether they liked the story and, we ask them to repeat it in their own words. While children try this, they are most likely to use new words that come from the book story. In this way, they enrich their vocabulary and their expressive means. We ask them to tell us what part of the story they liked the most, what scared them more or make them feel more sad or angry. Thus, children understand their feelings better and they exercise in expressing and verbalizing them.

We ask children to characterize the heroes of the story. This seems to be a fairly difficult question, since these types of questions are posed not only in primary school, but also in high school, in the context of language teaching. However, very young children during the reading of a story can spontaneously say, “this is a bad guy,” or “he is unfair” or “the other guy is polite”. So children realize what behaviors can adopt, what heroes they admire and can use as models, and with whom anti-heroes they would enter into a conflict if they themselves would live in the story. 

Finally, a (children’s) book can be the trigger for the whole family to make a variety of activities. You can draw bookmarks with the heroes of the book, make a story of your own and stage a play based on it, search for music related to the book’s theme or the author’s country of origin, or even organize an excursion to the place of the story, e.g. in a forest, in an archaeological site, a deserted village.

In general, it is important that what you do is motivated by excitement and interest in order for these feelings to be connected with reading in the child’s soul. And one last tip: Continue reading books to children even when they will have learnt to read. Lonely reading cannot replace the pleasure of an “offered” story from dad, mom or teacher.

Afroditi Charalampaki
Teacher, M.A.Ed. Drama Teacher, Storyteller

Translation: Sotia Bella

Για την μετάφραση των άρθρων σας συμπληρώστε τη φόρμα επικοινωνίας αναφέροντας τον τίτλο και την κατηγορία που σας ενδιαφέρει να δημοσιεύσετε το υλικό σας!