Thursday, May 24, 2012

Read aloud tips for fun reading with your preschoolers!

It may be an inborn trait or perhaps it is exposure, or even maybe a mixture of both. Dumpling has always loved performing arts. We have been attending regular theatre productions since she was quite little and once there, she'd be totally engrossed from the start till the end of the play without talking to us much (a very rare occurance :p).

Needless to say, dramatization is one area which we encourage at home to cultivate her interest and also her natural affinity towards story telling. Amongst some of her favourite activities are playing with felt pieces and creating our own story boxes.

Hence, I approached Sarah Lee-Wong, a professional story teller, to be my second guest blogger where she shared her thoughts on books, read aloud tips and even Tin Tin!

I shall now bow out and leave the story telling (all pun intended) to Sarah!J

Hey Sarah, firstly, tell us a bit about yourself.  

My current full-time job is at a domestic circus (yes, really). I live my days balancing precariously on the edge as Mom-makes-all-better, Milk-lady, Washer-upper, Tasty-treat maker to my two little boys, and Lady Love to one big man.

I started my career in advertising, jumped to journalism before landing myself in education. 

1) A lot of parents are keen to read to their children, how and where should we start?

I think it is great that parents are willing to set aside time to read with their children. It is a fantastic way for us to bond with them, as well as understand them better. Below are 2 tips on that:

Sustaining A Regular Reading Session
• Set aside a regular time for reading daily. It doesn’t matter if you can only start with 5. Just start, and protect that daily time.
• Choose a time of the day where all of you are most relaxed, and when they are most likely to be able to settle down and listen to a story. The best times for me have been just before nap or bedtimes when they are well-fed, clean and drowsy. The younger babies may want to crawl off halfway through a story, but carry on reading, because they will most certainly be still listening.
• Set up a simple book corner to do your reading. You can have several – one in each room – around the house too. The idea is to just have books around the house that you can pick up and read.


Choosing Books
When our children are younger, parents do most of the choosing. But as they grow up, and even by toddlerhood, you should also consider their interests in choosing the themes and topics of the books you share together.

Regardless of age, here are some things to bear in mind:

Subject: Will the theme of the book interest my child? Subjects that talk about the body, feelings, places in the neighbourhood, the natural world, animals and plants, transportation and occupations are often popular with children. Choose books in a variety of genres to expose your child to develop his general knowledge, worldview and also to different text structures.

Length of book: A child’s attention span corresponds to his age. The general rule of thumb is 2 – 3 minutes per year of his age e.g. A 2-year-old can concentrate on an activity for about 3 – 6 minutes. So choose something that you are likely able to finish within that time frame. But there is no hard and fast rule as I did read books that are quite lengthy like Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Journey to my then 2-year-old in one sitting.

Language: Rhyme and rhyming prose are fantastic for the younger ones. We are really loving Helen Oxenbury and Julia Donaldson right now in our bedroom.
Beautiful language - language that uses vivid imagery, rich vocabulary - is what I am always after in books as I believe that only quality literature can feed their fertile minds and enlarge their hearts.

Well-illustrated books are a joy to read for young children as they can still enjoy the story independently and without reading ability. Look out for Caldecott Honours and Kate Greenaway award book winners.

Consider the material of the book – board, cloth or paper? These are especially important when the children are younger since you would want to allow your child to handle the books without worrying about damage.

Love it!
Barring the adult boredom all parents have to endure with repeat-a-100-times favourites of our kids, we should always enjoy these reading sessions and enjoy the books we share with them.

2) Are there any books to avoid?

Sarah: I personally would not recommend books developed from TV series or cartoons as I find the writing quality inferior to children’s literature. That said, I do have a series of phonic readers based on Diego and Dora. I also do not like ghost stories for children.

I think parents have to decide what subject material they are comfortable with, and choose books that meet their standards and values. Parents often ask me if their children should read comic strips like Tin Tin. I am a great fan of Tin Tin! I don’t recommend only reading comics, but as part of a healthy balanced reading diet, comic strips are fun to read and can teach a child a lot! You can learn about impactful dialogue writing, plot development, and wit from comics.

My 3.5 y.o. has been enjoying the comic strips, Molly & Emmett, and Mop and Family from the Ladybug magazine.

3) While parents are keen to read aloud to our children, how do we make the story "come alive" to engage the little ones? Do we need props and what about acting out with "voices"?

Sarah:If you’re not used to the idea of reading aloud, I do suggest that you read the book a few times before reading it aloud to your child. Being familiar with the story helps you feel more comfortable with dramatising it.

 Dramatising it doesn’t mean you need to break out the costumes and act it all up, but it does mean expressive and energetic reading and letting your imagination run wild with the story!

To make it fun and enjoyable for both of you, try these easy tips:

- Play with your voice to make the characters and emotions of the story come alive. 3 easy ways to change your voice: pitch (high, shrill voice or a low, gruff one), volume (loud or soft), pace (fast or slow)

- Actions & Audience Participation: Children, especially the little ones, love to be part of the reading. So be creative in throw in some action or chant they can do as you read. Even helping you turn the pages helps them feel more involved in the reading.

- Story-to-life connections: Help make the story relatable for your child by discussing story elements or situations that he would be able to identify with.

- Dramatize the story: After reading, have fun acting out the story together. You could even do it with toys. Go around the house and pick out toys that you can use in your re-enactment of the story. Ask your child to help you pick them out, and you will be surprised at his fertile imagination! My bed has been an iceberg, a boat, plane and house. A blanket could be a fishing net or a cave or the beach.

Sometimes, we can try to do too much in one reading of the book. There is no need to cramp in the discussion about the entire book – story, vocabulary, illustrations and such – in one sitting.

Remembering that there is little we can do to avoid being asked to read a book over and over again can help us kick back, and relax and enjoy the book. (It’s actually great that a child would want a book read repeatedly because it means he loves it!)

Try to focus on a different element in each reading of the book.

The very first time you introduce the book, allow the child time to look at the cover. Discuss what is on the cover page. Read the title and invite the child to make guesses on what the story might be. This is also a good time to introduce the author and illustrator of the book.

During the first reading, it is natural that the child would want to look at the illustrations. You can do a book walk-through. Look at the pictures and use his natural interest in the pictures to engage him in conversation. Questions you may want to discuss include: Who are the characters you see? What are they doing? How do they feel? Why do you think it is so?

After looking at the pictures, read the story. In this reading, the main purpose is to read aloud the words for the child to listen. But as you read, do have the child contribute his opinions and feelings about it. If the line on the page says, ‘Mr Fix-it can fix anything.’ Lead the child to study the illustrations to elaborate on what Mr Fix-it can fix.

In the subsequent readings, you can choose work on deepening comprehension of the text, discuss specific vocabulary or contexts that relate to life.

There are no hard and fast rules about how you should read to, or with, your child. The most important rule, however, is that both of you must enjoy reading together!

5) Lastly, any other final tips?

I’ll like to end this with a quote:

"Stories are at the very heart of being human;
they talk about where we're from,
where we are, and where we're going.

They're like bread; you need to hear and tell them everyday."

Bill Harley

I believe that stories have the power to teach and enrich our lives like nothing else. There is no need to moralise at the end of every tale. There is no need to expound and drive home the ‘teaching value’ of every story.

Let the stories simmer in their souls, and you’ll be surprised just how much they can, and will, teach them about being better people.

Finally, as you begin building a reading relationship with your children, feel free to begin sharing the stories from your lives, as a child, with them too!

Enjoy every moment you have with your children.

Sarah Lee-Wong is a work-from-home mother of two young children who enjoys "experimenting" her ideas on her children and getting the chance to have another childhood. Sarah also spent the last 12 years in various aspects of education ranging from teaching to curriculum development and teacher-training. Literacy, drama and storytelling are Sarah's pet interests.
Sarah blogs regular at and can be contacted at



  1. Yeah, I don't read ghost stories to the kids too! Nightmares!

    I let the kids pick the books and if they kept picking the same book, we are going to read that over and over again. I don't mind because I know, those kids love that book very much :)

  2. That's great effort Merryn! What are your kiddos' favourite titles for the moment? :)


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