How to Read a Children’s Book Aloud


Kevin Cunningham



How to a read children’s book aloud to maximize speech development

Think about the masters of reading books aloud to children, like LeVar Burton in this masterful performance. What makes them so engaging engaging? Why do children pay attention?

I have studied what captivating readers have in common. Science gives some clues on the best style to read to children as these same techniques are associated with speech development [1]:

  1. Read slowly. Pause frequently.
  2. Vary your pitch much more than you would for an adult (WHAT is that? A DOG? AHH!)
  3. Change your volume to stress words and story parts (and then the boy opened the door and there was a WITCH). In general, use a slightly loud voice to grab the child’s attention
  4. Think “high energy”, dramatic storytelling

I don’t do character voices but if you are a creative person, go for it. In addition to benefiting communication development, taking on the role of the dramatic storyteller can be helpful for bonding between the parent and child. It produces so many laughs, frights, and conversations which are positive associations with communication and reading.

During reading, ask questions and encourage conversation

Many scientific studies have seen the positive effects of a group of techniques called shared reading both for children with typical development [2] and those with disabilities like autism spectrum disorder [3]. Shared reading promotes interaction between the caregiver and child. Parents can read a children’s book aloud with these techniques by:

  1. Reading the text on the page
  2. After reading the text, making a comment, expressing an opinion, or asking a question
  3. Asking the child to interact with the text by pointing to an object or asking a question

For example, imagine a parent was reading this story available for free at the amazing resource Tar Heel Reader.

Shared reading might go like this:

Dad: I like dogs. These dogs are waiting.

Dad:Which one do you like best?

Child: That one [pointing to dog on left]

Dad: The big one? You like the big one best?

Child: Big one

The main idea is to encourage a child to interact with the book. Use modeling strategies and expand upon what a child says. Personally, I like to be silly and dramatic with comments and questions (“I’m too scared of those dogs, especially that little one, too scared to read more, pet them and make sure they are nice!”) I use shared reading because it puts the child in the driver’s seat and gives them a chance to interact with the story.

Make a habit of reading children’s books aloud

Structure your day and environment so that reading is fun for both the caregiver and child:

  1. Find a consistent time to read. Many families have luck with bedtime. For us, since the wheels are starting to come off at that point at the night, we try for weekend mornings. Dad can get a cup of coffee and read while the house is still peaceful.
  2. Pick a comfortable place.
  3. Let the child choose the book (though you may regret it by the 46th reading of Goodnight Moon)
  4. Don’t worry about grade level. I sometimes read picture books to the school age children, and the younger children will listen to chapter books read aloud.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to read. Every family as its own traditions. Try some of these tips and see if they work for you and your child.

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[1] McMurray, B., Kovack-Lesh, K. A., Goodwin, D., & McEchron, W. (2013). Infant directed speech and the development of speech perception: Enhancing development or an unintended consequence?

[2] Lonigan, C. J., & Whitehurst, G. J. (1998). Relative efficacy of parent and teacher involvement in a shared-reading intervention for preschool children from low-income backgrounds.

[3] Akemoglu, Y., & Tomeny, K. R. (2021). A parent-implemented shared-reading intervention to promote communication skills of preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder.

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