I’ve now been on bedtime story duty for twelve years. We’ve been on adventures in day-to-day worlds, trailed through fantastical realms, crept through sinister space ships, been on arctic expeditions, and much more besides.
It’s great to read to your kids, it offers lots of benefits. I’ve written before about the importance of reading to children. If you’d like to check that out just click this link.
If you are an adult in the UK who struggles to read but would like to get better you can get help from ‘The Big Plus’. You can find out more by clicking this link or phone them on 0800 917 8000.
Make Storytime Fun
In the past twelve years of bedtime stories, I’ve explored as many different ways of holding a child’s attention as I could think of. Some of these didn’t work, some had the opposite effect, and some were downright ridiculous.
However, in among all of the experimentation I’ve found at least a few things that definitely helped keep my kids enthralled enough for a half-hour or so of reading each night. This immersion in the story world has definitely helped develop their own love of reading too (to the point where I’m steadily being made redundant).
Giving the characters some personality
The big thing that really caught their attention in the early days of story reading was something that might make many feel self-conscious, but it’s well worth the effort…voices.
You don’t have to be perfect; your Winnie the Pooh doesn’t have to sound exactly like the Disney version, your Gruffalo doesn’t have to sound like Robbie Coltrane, and later on, your Hagrid won’t have to sound lie Robbie Coltrane either.
You’re not trying to win an award, your kids won’t be overly critical (especially if you start early). Just make an effort. Changing your voice, even a little, will encourage most children to pay attention.
At baby and toddler stage they’re keyed-in to notice even the slightest changes in your voice. The more you change your speech patterns, the bigger the interest will be (at least that’s what I found).
I’ve always included voices when reading. They haven’t always been perfect but when we moved on to books without pictures it almost became a necessity. With a larger group of main characters, it helped a lot to have different voices so my kids could keep up with the story.
This has apparently had such an effect that my eldest son recently told me that when he reads by himself he hears different character voices inside his head. Good to know it was worth the odd sore throat.
Set the scene
We didn’t do this all the time but sometimes I felt it was necessary. One of the biggest changes was the move on to chapter books. Without pictures, it was sometimes necessary to do something to draw my kids deeper into the story. I had to think outside the box.
For example, we might build a fort in their room after tea, then read in it for bedtime. I sometimes set up special lights to make the room look different (cheap battery-powered fairy lights bought in the pound shop or other bargain shops were ideal for this).
Whatever made storytime stand out was worth a try. If we had time, it could be something big but most nights it was as simple as switching off the room light and using a reading lamp and some fairy lights. Here’s one tactic that I found really useful.
Let them pick
You should let them pick their own story. I won’t lie to you here; you may have to read the same picture book every night for a month if you do this. However, back at a time when their whole day was dictated by others (where they went, who they met, what they ate), this was one of the only ways my kids were getting to engage in making their own choices in life (albeit on a pretty small scale).
What’s more, it also gave me an early insight into their tastes and personalities. They’ve surprised me many times, especially at the library or book shops when looking for something new.
Let them look through and see what stories really stand out to them. This is actually a lovely experience, and it’s something I’m sure most parents will get a kick out of.
Try and enjoy it yourself
This is a sort of ‘bonus tip’ on top of the three mentioned so far I’d add this extremely important extra. Make sure you’re comfortable, happy, that you’ve got a good seat/beanbag/ whatever you like to sit on, and most importantly that you’ve got a wee cup of tea/coffee on hand to stop sore throats.
It can be hard to disconnect from things now. I know my phone beeps multiple times an hour, I’m guessing yours does too. I’ve come to see that half-hour as a welcome break in that constant stream of information. I put my phone away, I grab a cup of coffee, my kids get into bed (or sometimes sit with me) and we take a step away from our world for a little bit.
Reading to your kids doesn’t have to be a begrudging task that we do because we feel we ‘have to’. It can be a relaxing break from day-to-day life. Do what you can to enjoy the slower pace, the focussed time, the moments to catch up and laugh with your kids. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had more than a few nights where I can’t believe we’re reading the Gruffalo AGAIN (for example), but most of my nights have been something brilliant.
I wouldn’t give up story night for anything and I hope these hints help you find ways to enjoy it more too.
Please let me know if you try any of these hints in the comments below and as always thanks for reading,
All the best, John