Education and parenting experts agree that reading to and with young children helps them better understand their world and develop important language and learning skills. Most importantly, when parents and children read together, children develop a love of reading that can last a lifetime.
But how can busy parents and caregivers maximize the value of reading time with their children, and make the experience more fun, productive and rewarding for themselves as well as for their children?
1. Start reading together as early as possible. Even tiny babies love to hear the rhythms and intonations of a loved one's voice (poetry and rhyming text is great!) and to look at colorful, eye-catching artwork. Get kids used to the idea of looking at and listening to books as early as possible.
2. Cuddle while reading together. This is a powerful kinesthetic way to help children subconsciously associate reading with warmth, joy and love, and helps seed the ground for passionate readers later in life. Plus, it makes for great parent/child bonding time.
3. Trace the lines with a finger while reading aloud. With young children who are just learning to read, this helps them to follow along and associate the letters and words with the sounds they are hearing and images they are seeing, encouraging them to learn to read themselves.
4. Use character voices or accents. Children love to hear the voices of individual characters come to life, and this can really help activate the story and characters for them and engage their imaginations.
5. Read with vocal "color." This is probably the most important tip of all. Keeping the voice alive and interesting can make all the difference in terms of a child's ability to listen and follow a story. Use emphasis here, enthusiasm there, tenderness another place. Find the cadences and rhythms of the author's language, and try to convey the mood or the characters' intentions. There's no need to be a ham, or yuck it up so much that the listener pays more attention to the vocal acrobatics than the story itself, but it's important to avoid monotonous reading. Keep it fresh!
6. Stop from time to time to ask questions. Check in with young listeners about their thoughts and reactions to the story or pictures - "Why do you think he or she did that?" "What would you do in that situation?" "What do you think is going to happen?" "Do you see what I see?"
7. Personalize the story. Look for ways to insert the child's name into the text, especially if it's a book that speaks directly to a child and only uses pronouns, or to substitute the name of a character or place with a familiar one. Draw parallels between the events and characters in the story and those of your child's life.
8. Role-play with dialogue. If a child is old enough to read, divide the character roles and alternate reading the dialogue together. This is a great way to draw a child into the story, and to help them learn to read aloud with animation.
9. Fuel a child's individual passions and interests - Does he or she love animals? Sports? Cooking? Dressing up? Find books that speak to their unique interests, and be willing to read the same books a hundred times in a row. In this way we can affirm for our children the value of having one's own passions and perspective.
10. It doesn't have to be books! If there's nothing else at hand, a magazine can make for fun reading as well. See what child-friendly "stories" can be found inside or even made up from the pictures. The important thing is to spend time sitting with kids, turning pages and exploring and discovering together.
Create home-made "AudioBooks." Read and record a favorite stories on tape or CD that a child can play back and follow along with in the book. These can be wonderful gifts - and can be especially helpful as a transition to sleep, or when a loved one has to be away for any period of time.
Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children's book author, editor and arts educator. Her latest book is "Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment." http://www.raisingbookworms.com