Learn 5 super-easy strategies to keep your child's attention during read aloud times.
It happened again.
I had read an entire selection from our current read-aloud to my child. I could see her attention wandering, and by the end I knew I had lost her.
I knew it was an interesting book. I knew if I could keep her attention while I was reading aloud she would love it.
Bu when I finished with that short section, I asked her to tell me anything that she could remember.
Deer in the headlights.
It was obvious what I was doing just wasn't working. Being a being an analytical person, I knew I needed to figure out how to keep my child engaged during our read aloud times.
So I came up with 5 strategies that almost guarantee that my child will stay engaged (and yours, too!).
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NOTE: Read aloud books are books that you read aloud to your children. They don't need to be fiction, but they should be living books for maximum engagement.
what you'll need to keep your child engaged during read alouds
1. Recap Last Week's Reading
Because we use a Charlotte Mason homeschooling approach, we read books slowly and over several weeks. This means we often read from a particular book only once a week.
This also means that if we pick up a book, that it's hard to remember off the top of our head exactly what happened the last time we read.
This is where the recap comes in.
Do you remember watching TV when you were a kid? Before Netflix when you could binge watch a whole season and one night?
When the episodes only came out once a week, at the beginning of each episode the announcer would briefly recap what had happened in previous episodes.
"Previously, on all my children."
Even cartoons would do this. "When we last saw our intrepid duo...."
We should do the same thing with our books. Help your child recall what happened the last time, so that they can get excited about what will happen next.
If you have trouble remembering, jot a few notes down on a Post-It note at the end of today's reading.
Just a few words to jog your memory.
Stick it in your book with the bookmark below so you can easily refer to it next week.
That slides right into previewing what you're going to be reading this week.
2. be a movie trailer: preview this week's reading
Think about watching a movie trailer on TV.
It teases the exciting parts of the movie.
They don't give the whole plot away, but they give you just little snippets to make you want to watch it.
You call to your husband who is doing dishes in the kitchen while you're sitting on the couch, "Hey, honey? That looks so good. We're going to see that as soon as it comes out!"
A girl can dream, right?
Even without theatrical trailers, when you're telling someone about a movie that you want them to see, you'll tell them little bits of it. Just enough to get them to want to watch it, but you're not giving them a full blow by blow account.
We want to do the same thing when we were reading to our child. If we've looked over the passage, we can give them just a little bit. Just enough to pique their interest.
"Today we're going to find out what happened to Harry and Ron after they crashed the car into the woods."
Include your child in this.
Ask them, "What do you think's going to happen? Do you think their parents are going to be angry with them?"
Not only does this involve children in the story, but it also helps them develop the skill of predicting what will happen next.
It will help develop them into more active readers when they are reading their own books.
After you've recapped last week's reading, previewed this week's reading like a movie trailer, then remind them to listen closely.
3. Remember to Listen Closely
Even with getting kids excited about what's going to happen, it still helps to just give them that little reminder to pay attention.
I use a very simple, "Remember to listen closely now."
Or sometimes, I'll say, "Remember to pay attention."
Either one reminds your child what she's supposed to be doing.
It's just a little reminder but it seems to really help when they're told, that this is what they need to do.
Once we've recapped last week's episode, previewed this week's passage, and reminded our child to listen closely, now it's time to actually start reading.
And the only way to read is to read with feeling.
4. Read with Feeling
It doesn't matter how engaging a book is, if it's being read in a monotone voice it's hard to follow.
It doesn't matter how old the listener is. If the presentation is boring, the listener will be bored.
Think about your favorite audio books.
Chances are, the narrator is involved with the book. He's able to convey that by how he reads it.
This means doing the voices if you're reading something with dialogue.
It means putting emotion into your voice.
It means slowing down in the difficult places and speeding up in the exciting places.
Convey as much emotion as you can while you're reading to your kids.
Use your entire body. Use hand, arm, and facial gestures.
If you come to a part where a character slowly cracks open a door and peaks around the door frame, then act that out while you're reading.
If you're not used to doing this, it can feel really embarrassing. Even if your only audience is your kids.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
This alone is the number one way to keep your child's attention.
If you are engaged, they are much more likely to be engaged.
But it doesn't matter how exciting you make the reading if those who are listening don't understand the words.
5. Define Words in Context
Listening comprehension is a complicated mix of being interested in the material, understanding the meaning of the words, and drawing on our previous experiences for background knowledge.
It doesn't matter how interesting the material is, if the vocabulary is too high.
One way around this is to define words in context.
What that means is we're not going to write vocabulary words on a chalkboard before we start. We're going to give the definition of some of the difficult words as we're reading.
"Peter's coat and shoes were plainly to be seen upon the scarecrow, topped with an old tam-o-shanter of Mr. McGregor's."
Look up from the book, look at your child, and say, "A tam-o'-shanter is a kind of floppy hat."
Then continue reading. "Little Benjamin said it spoils people's clothes to squeeze under a gate..."
See how this doesn't interrupt the flow of the story? But it gives your child enough information that they can picture things in their head. Even if they don't know the words.
Don't do this to every word. Just the ones that you know your child does not understand and that would be hard to figure out just from context. (Is a tam-o-shanter a scarf? A hat? A cape?)
If you're having to stop every sentence to define words in context, then the vocabulary of that particular book is probably too high.
Find a book that will be easier for your child to understand, that still has good vocabulary in it, and then work your way into these higher level books.
Did you skip to the end? Here are the five strategies to use every time you're doing a read-aloud with your child.
- Recap last week's reading
- Preview this week's reading (think movie trailer)
- Say, "Remember to listen closely"
- Read with feeling
- Define words in context
I put these five tips onto a beautiful, simple, done-for-you bookmark to keep as an easy reference.
They are printed four to a page, so all you have to do is print out a sheet, cut on the solid lines, and then fold the top on the dotted lines.
One of the things that I hate about bookmarks is that they always slip out when I open a book. By hooking that folded part over the top of the page, the bookmark stays in place.
Not only is it a handy way to keep your place, but you'll be reminded every time you open that book to do these five simple steps.
Soon it will become second nature!