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12 Shared Reading Tips to Share with Families


Shared storybook reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. At its best, this activity can promote strong parent-child attachment, nurture key early language and literacy skills, strengthen a child’s pride in their cultural and personal identity, expand their knowledge of the world, and help them process strong emotions and deal with life’s challenges.

Today’s post offers 12 practical tips on making the most of shared reading time. Share this post with families to help them enhance their special storytimes with young children.

Select high-quality books that interest your child. You might want to ask a children’s librarian or teachers for guidance and book recommendations. Be sure not to underestimate the level of language or information your child may enjoy. Sometimes grownups limit their selections to books with simple words intended for begin­ning readers, but it’s also important to choose books that stretch a child’s spoken language and expand their knowledge.

Stock your library with different kinds of books. Storybooks are important, but don’t forget to include informational books that teach young children about key concepts and expand their knowledge of the world (e.g., books about animals, machines, natural phenomena, and other countries).

Engage the child with questions about the book. Ask questions that challenge your child. These may be questions about the names for things, but they can also be about why characters are doing things or how they’re feel­ing. Informational books can give you rich starting points for talk about the physical world. Praise children when they respond to your questions and ask their own!

Build the child’s world knowledge. Be alert for instances when the time period or location of the story’s events are unfamil­iar to your child. Make sure you give the child enough information to understand the story. When you’re reading informational books, be especially aware of the need to ask questions and respond to your child’s questions. These mini-lessons should be brief and can occur at any time as you read. 

Use books to expand vocabulary. Watch for words you think the child may not know and briefly talk about them. When you reread a book, ask children if they remember what the word means, and try to use new words at other times of the day to reinforce knowledge.

Read a story with a strong pattern. Encourage the child to retell the story, replicating the pattern. After your child has learned to retell the story, have them create their own story with similar patterns.

Strengthen children’s comprehension skills by helping them under­stand the book while remaining alert for questions or signs of con­fusion. Notice things that might be confusing, and ask the child questions (“Why do you think he wanted to do that?”). Make connections to your child’s life and experiences, and provide information beyond what’s in the book.

Make reading an enjoyable routine. As you read the book, laugh a lot. Respond to children’s interests and comments, and share your own enthusiasm, ques­tions, and enjoyment. Try to make it a regular routine—read at the same time each day if you can.

Reread books. It’s no secret that children enjoy hearing their favorite books many times. That’s a good thing: repetition gives them many chances to absorb the language of the book. Select high-quality books to increase the usefulness of these repeat readings.

Add signs as you read. Some children benefit from “doing a book” instead of just listening and looking as the book is being read to them. Add some key signed words to your shared book reading that children can easily imitate. They will especially delight in signed and spoken phrases when the book includes rhythm, rhyme, and repetition. (See the book Sing & Sign for Young Children for more on this topic.)

Engage them with expressiveness. Keep in mind that how you read is as important as what you read. To keep young children engaged as you share a story together, be sure to use your most interesting facial expressions and entertaining vocal inflections.

Try singing a book. Select a picture book with rhythm, rhyme, and repetition, and either borrow a melody or make up your own. Early childhood expert Anne Meeker Watson provides an example: one of her favorite picture books to sing is Time for Bed by Mem Fox. She borrows the melody from “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to sing lines from the book like “It’s time for bed, little goose, little goose, the stars are out and on the loose.” Singing a book can also support emotional regulation by helping children feel calm and present in the moment.

Use the practical tips in today’s post to help families enhance shared reading—and keep these ideas in mind as you read with the children in your program, too.

Today’s post was adapted from the following books:

Tips 1-9 adapted from Connecting Through Talk by David K. Dickinson & Ann B. Morse
Tips 10-12 adapted from Sing & Sign for Young Children by Anne Meeker Watson