How to Read to Kids

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Young teacher reading to childrenWhether you are reading to your own children or reading a book as part of your Sunday morning lesson at church, it is important that you read it in such a manner that kids will be captivated and engaged by it.  Imagine hearing a song with awesome music where the artist sings in a very monotone voice and never looks at the audience.  It would not be very entertaining, and If you were watching it on television, you would likely want to change the station.
The Bible tells us that whatever we do, we should do it all for the glory of God [see 1 Corinthians 10:31].  Everything we do with kids, we should try to do with excellence as if God Himself were in the audience (because he is).  That holds true for simple things as well – like reading a book.  Here are ten tips for making your reading as exciting and engaging as possible.

10 Tips for Reading Aloud to Children

1. Use Voice Inflection
People don’t talk in monotone, and neither should a story be read that way.  Listen to your brain when you are reading to yourself.  Even then, if we are taking the time to really read, our brains will instinctively add inflection to the story.  When you read out loud to kids, make sure that you engage them by using voice inflection.  Read faster at times if the action in the book warrants it.  Slow down where appropriate.  Speak louder during times of conflict and softer at other times.  A monotone voice is like white noise, and far from engaging kids, it will eventually put them to sleep or send them off talking to one another.

2. Your Face Also Tells a Story

You may be reading, but don’t forget that your face is critically important to how the story is received, and kids will be watching you as you read.  Reading to a group of kids is not like sitting in your house reading for your own pleasure.  Smile when the story is entertaining.  Grimace when the hero encounter a seemingly insurmountable problem.  Let the kids see worry in your eyes or excitement in your cheeks.   Your facial expressions help to give kids (especially young kids) clues to how they should react to the story.

3. Create Character Voices

Have you ever seen a movie where every character sounded exactly the same?  I didn’t think so.  Neither should the characters of a book all sound the same.  You don’t have to be an impressionist in order to give your characters voice.  Talk in high pitches for female voices and lower pitches for male voices.  Have fun with accents.  As a storyteller, this can be a very enjoyable part of your reading.  I do have one word of caution on this though.  When we “create” a voice for God, it is often tempting to always use a low, loud, powerful and foreboding voice.  Just remember that the voices you use create an impression for kids, and if God always seems foreboding because of the way you read it, it might be hard for your kids to always realize that God is approachable.

4. Remember to Pause

So often when we read out loud, we totally forget how we speak in normal everyday conversations.  Remember to pause for effect and to allow the listener to “catch up” and process what they have already hear.  As you reach the climax of the story, pause for just a little longer than normal to build the anticipation.  If you are reading something funny, pause and allow time for the audiences response.

5. Look at the Audience

Look up!  Look up!  Look up!  You may be reading, but you still have an audience, and nothing is more engaging that eye contact.  Look at the kids while you read to gauge their comprehension and response to the story.  If you are reading to a group, try to make eye contact with as many of them as possible.  A quick smile while you are looking at them will work wonders too!

6. Don’t Cover Up the Pictures

If the book you are reading has pictures, kids will want to see them.  Learning to read while holding a book out to your side with one hand will be a valuable talent.  If you are reading to really large group, consider scanning the pictures and projecting them on a screen so the kids can see them as you read.  One thing I can guarantee you – if you cover up the pictures, kids will interrupt your reading to let you know!

7. Your Body Language Still Matters

We’ve already talked about using your face and making sure you look at the audience.  Your body language also matter when you are reading to kids.  If the part of the story you are reading is scary, tense your body up a little bit.  If it is exciting, bounce a little in your seat.  Use hand gestures as you read.  Your goal is not to turn the book into a play, but kids will notice your body language and gestures, so make them count.

8. Read the Story Ahead of Time

No matter what you do, you should always be prepared.  Don’t assume that sense all you are doing is reading a book that you don’t have to prepare.  Read the story ahead of time – preferably several times.  Think about the voices you will use, gestures and facial expressions you will make and every other aspect of your reading.  You might venture from that plan during the reading, but at least you will be prepared.

9. Ad Lib A Little

Don’t stray too far from the story, and you never want your comments to become a distraction, but it is ok to intersperse the story with your own comments.  Comments like “Wow! I wonder what he’s going to do next,” or “Ohhh, that’s scary” help to personalize the story a little bit.  They also show the kids that you are engaged in the story and not just reading from a book.

10. Ask Questions When You Are Done

A story is useless if there is no comprehension.  Spend a couple of minutes afterwards leading kids in a conversation about the book.  Ask some questions to gauge comprehension and ask other questions to get them thinking.  For many books, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “What do you think happened next?”
There you have it.  Ten tips to turn you into a great reader and storyteller.  What would you add to the list?  What has worked for you?  Please leave a comment below letting us know.

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