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As a parent or teacher reading books to your children, you may be wondering: Is reading a book to a child enough? Do they understand the moral of the story? Are they going to be able to internalize — make a habit — out of the lessons? In our experience of teaching thousands of kids in schools, we learned that the first step is to make the reading as interactive and entertaining as possible. Our favorite tool is to learn by doing — playing. In this way, education becomes automatic.
This article discusses ideas about how to bring books to life for your children. (This article started out as 10 ideas, but I keep adding more.) Our first three answers are the basics, but feel free to skip to the one that feels right to you. By the way, these are all great ideas to encourage your children to put down those hypnotic digital devices.
1) Read the story with your child.
This beloved tradition is easily the number one way to bring a book to life and bond with your child. It’s also a way to discuss big issues in an indirect and non-threatening way. Here are a few tips on how to read a story.
- First, read the book beforehand. You’ll do a better job sharing the book with your child because you’ll know what is coming next. Also, reading the book may prevent uncomfortable surprises, and you’ll be prepared to answer any questions.
- It’s important that sharing books with your child is fun. If you are having fun, your child will feel that. If your child isn’t enjoying the book, try a different book or stop and try again later.
- Your storytelling doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to read every word as it is written. You can even ad-lib, or stop to point out interesting words or pictures. Just have fun reading with your child. Whether your child realizes it or not, you are a reading role model.
- Pretend you are an actor. Pause to create suspense. Use different voices for different characters. Try some expressive body language. This will make the story jump off the page!
- Take turns reading with your child. You can both play a different character. However, if they don’t want to read, assure them it’s okay. Encourage them to try again next time; meanwhile, model your love of books.
- Did I say have fun?
2) Stop and ask questions.
Asking questions is a great way to teach your child. It’s not a right-or-wrong test, but it does help you discover areas to explore. If they don’t have an answer, that’s okay. With a good book, we can return again and again, each time with a new perspective and a lesson waiting to be learned. After those questions percolate in your child’s imagination, you may be surprised by what they discover the next time you read the book. Example questions:
- Before you turn the page, ask: “What do you think happens next?”
- If the character in the book has a decision to make ask: “What would you do now?”
- And, of course, when you finish ask, “What do you think the moral of this story is”
4) Storytime (read-aloud).
Most libraries and bookstores have free story times or what is sometimes called a read-aloud. It’s a great way to discover new books and new friends. You could also create your own storytime and invite some neighbors over. Don’t forget the cookies.
And don’t miss Magination Press’ Story Time to hear great books read aloud by the author. We suggest you read the book with your child first (see idea #1), then watch how the author tells their own story. You may find the different emphasis adds a new level of meaning.
Here is our friend, Frank, reading his book “A World of Pausabilities”.
5) Do a puppet show
If you have any stuffed animals, you can assign each one a role in the story. Create funny voices for each character. In this way, you are helping your child sympathize with a diverse group of people and circumstances.
6) Play dress-up.
You can bring the book to life by dressing up as a character in the book. How will any kid refuse an invitation to read The Gruffalo by the Gruffalo with a gruff voice? (Or whatever character you choose.)
7) Make a meal that’s in the book.
8) Draw a picture.
Drawing is a great way to make a story jump off the page. Encourage your child to draw a character from the book. They can use their own style or the style of the illustrator. If drawing a picture sounds intimidating, remind your child that the first, most important step is having fun. They can also just trace the picture. When I was a child, I hung pictures on a window so the light would shine through, making it easy to trace. Don’t forget to showcase your child’s picture on the refrigerator.
9) Write a story or a poem.
Your child may find writing a story or poem in the style of the author is just as fun as drawing a picture.
10) Make a book.
Is your child sad that a book ended? Why not try making a sequel? For example, suggest your child retell the story from the point of view of a different character. This is an ambitious project. Your child may want to team up with a sibling or friend as an author-illustrator team.
By the way, kids love making books. Scott has worked with thousands of students with his Make-A-Book Project.
11) Make a game.
Think of a book as raw knowledge. It can be easily forgotten if it isn’t applied. Learning through play is one of the best ways to help a child integrate the lessons. A crossword puzzle or word search are games that can help make ideas memorable and teach a more extensive vocabulary. You can make your own crossword puzzle at our partner Reading is Fundamental.
12) Follow your child’s favorite author or illustrator online.
Many authors and illustrators have their websites with interactive features. We do!!! (Obviously.) Your child’s favorite book probably has a website listed. Or, do an internet search for their favorite author or illustrator. Their website might even show. how they make their books. Our friend Chris Sickels is a fantastic illustrator and posts many pictures of his work process.
13) Help your child write a letter to their favorite author.
Speaking for myself, I love getting fan mail! I’ve received hundreds of letters over the years. It’s my biggest reward — seeing how my books have inspired people to live their dreams. I know many authors are super busy, and many of my own letters to authors have gone unanswered. But that doesn’t mean they went unread. I like to think they inspired the author. Here are some ideas for your letter:
- Tell the author why you are writing.
- Ask them what inspires them.
- Ask them for some writing tips.
- Thank the author for their time.
14) Bonus activities.
Many books have bonus activities to help you understand and enjoy the lessons. Our publisher, Magination Press, publishes books by experts, so you will often find a “Note to the reader” that explains the big ideas to adults. As an example, you can see the “Note to the reader” in our latest book, Feel Your Feelings, here online, called Learn why fear is your friend. You will get a glimpse behind the curtain about how we use cognitive behavioral theory as the basis of this book.
We also have free downloadable activities for Feel Your Feelings, like discussion topics and our emoji cutout kit, so kids can make their own emotions. And our other book, Dream It!, also has some bonus activities, like a facilitator’s guide and an Easter egg hunt.
Sharing books with kids in an engaging way brings them to life, helps connect concepts to kids’ experiences, and encourages conversations about ideas and feelings. Any book that interests your child will do, as long as you both enjoy it. If you want to act out some fun emotions, we recommend our book, Feel Your Feelings [Link], and don’t forget to download our talking points to spark a conversation about how people experience and handle their feelings. [I could just give you the talking points PDF if that helps.]
We hope you enjoy these activities. Let us know your favorite ways to bring a book to life in the comments below.