Maximize Your Reading Experience

Interested in ways to enrich and maximize reading experiences with your preschooler?  Try incorporating these practical and actionable tips into your reading routines to help support your little one’s early literacy.

With each literacy tip, examples are provided from the story Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis.  The goal is that you can apply these tips to any book you read with your child.  Since you know your child best, be flexible with incorporating these recommendations based on your child’s level of readiness.

1.) Read Facing Your Child 

Find a low-distraction area and comfortable position where your child can see your face and the book as you read together.  

This might look like being seated across from one another at a table or on the ground, having your child on your lap, or lying on a bed looking at one another.  Being face-to-face while reading together helps capture and maintain your child’s attention and engagement as he sees your facial expressions.  Watching your mouth movements can also assist your child in imitating your sounds and words.

2.) Assign a Page Turner

Get your child actively involved in the story reading experience by having him turn each page in the book as you read the words.  

Cue a page turn with a high-pitched “ding” sound.  Or, you can pretend that the book pages are sticky, and ask for your child's magical touch.  If you have more than one enthusiastic bookworm, you can have them take turns between pages or books.  This valuable role turns your child into an active participant who is invested in and essential to the read-aloud.  In addition to providing purpose, this job refocuses listeners who may have grown distracted.

3.) Act It Out

Use pretending or gesturing to express words or events in the story.  

This could include sign language, if you know and use it (e.g., water, thank you), or it might be something you create in the moment (e.g., pointer finger to lips for “quiet,” hands cupping mouth for “yell”).  It can be as simple as a hand wave for “hello” or pointing towards the sky for “up.”  Encourage your child to copy your motions!  Acting out what’s happening in a story together makes this special shared experience fun and interactive, while strengthening comprehension and vocabulary development.

4.) Find Peace with Not Reading EVERY Word 

In case you thought you needed permission, you aren’t obligated to read aloud every page or paragraph verbatim as originally written by the author.  

Follow your child’s lead.  Gauge his attention span and level of energy, interest, and understanding, and adjust your reading accordingly.  

Alternatives to reading every word include the following:

  • Overemphasizing or exaggerating a single word (e.g., up for sprinkler, cold for snow, swim for pool, ocean, snowflakes), or phrase (e.g., Sometimes you freeze.)
  • Adding an onomatopoeia or other sounds for your child to copy (e.g. /sh/ for running faucet, “drip, drop, drip, drop” for rain, repeated /g/ swallowing sound and satisfied “aahh” for drinking glass of water)
  • Taking a pause to talk about the book’s illustrations (e.g., I see a boy on the diving board preparing to splash into the pool!)
  • Or, making a personal connection to the story with your child (e.g., This page reminds me of the towering sailboats we see floating by the Sarasota Bay at Marina Jack’s.)

5.) Change Your Voice 

Based on what’s happening in the story, adjust your tone, volume, and speed of talking when reading aloud.  

You can use different silly voices for story characters.  Or, In Hey Water!, try reading “Sometimes you lie, quiet and calm” in a slow, peaceful whisper.  Conversely, a louder, excited, and boisterous voice matches the line “we can splash and play and yell in you.”  Changing your voice in these ways captivates listeners, evokes emotion, and aids your child’s understanding of story characters and events and word meanings.

6.) Play with Letters and Sounds 

Draw your child’s attention to and initiate excitement around what he sees and hears in the book’s text.

Choose one of these games as a focus for a book reading or single page.

  • Rhyme Time: Listen for, repeat, and emphasize rhyming words heard in the book (e.g., “huff” and “puff”).  Together, you can also make up and add your own rhymes (e.g., buff, cuff, gruff, rough).  
  • Letter Hunt: Help your child notice letters that he knows, beginning with the letters in his first name.  For example, you might say, “Your name starts with the letter O.  It’s shaped like a circle.  Can you find and put your finger on a letter “O” on the front cover of our book?"
  • Sound Master: Have your child say a sound by itself, such as /s/, as in “superhero.”  Guide your child in pointing to the letter that represents that sound.  (Stick to the most basic sounds for single consonants and short and long vowels).  Listen with your child and identify and repeat words from the story that start with a specific sound (e.g., for the snake sound, /s/: sprinkler, spray, sea, salty, splash, stomp, slide, skate, soft, snowman)

7.) Continue the Learning 

Learning from the story can be extended even after the last page has been read.  

Here’s how: 

  • If there’s interest, reread the same book again… and again… and again.
  • Assist your child in telling about, coloring, or acting out a favorite page or part of the story (e.g., I like when Zoe sees the water as snow and is rolling a huge snowball.)
  • Have your child retell the story to you while looking through the book together page by page (e.g, First, Zoe says "hey" to the water gushing out of the faucet.  Next, ...).
  • Reference and discuss new vocabulary and concepts, events, or characters in the book in the future (e.g., Remember when we read the book called Hey, Water!?  You’re washing your body in the bathtub/drinking water from a cup/swimming in the pool/stomping in the rain puddle just like the character Zoe from the story.  We use water in lots of ways just like her.”)

Hopefully you can take away a new tip to try during reading time with your child!  Or, maybe you received affirmation of beneficial practices you already have in place.  If nothing else, keep reading, reading, reading to your child, and use this special connection with him to develop a strong love of literacy from the very start.

Happy reading,

- Johanna Sims, M.S., CCC-SLP

More from the Blog