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Reading to Two: A Double Challenge

By: PBS Parents
While parents understand the importance of reading to children, it is often a struggle to read to two. How can parents negotiate the "book wars," when one child only wants to read chapter books and the other insists on reading picture books? What can parents do when one child wants to read about dinosaurs and the other wants to read about ballerinas?

While reading to two can be a challenge, there are strategies that do work. The strategies that follow can help you make the family reading experience meaningful, while helping your children to develop their abilities as readers and writers.

Choosing the right books for two

The first and most critical step is selecting the right books. Consider these tips as you try to find the right books for two.

Choose topics that appeal to both your children

Look for interesting books that both children can "read," such as, Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton or Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow. Preschoolers can count and name colors, while toddlers will be enchanted by the colorful illustrations. Moreover, the catchy beat and refrain will help both your children become aware of the sounds of the language, while laying the foundation for reading and writing development.

Consider the complexity of the story as well as the topic

If your older child thinks a book is too easy, he may lose interest. At the same time, your younger child can become frustrated with long, complex books. Try to select books that "stretch" your younger child, while appealing to your older child. You may even be surprised by how attentive your younger child can be.

Choose books that have characteristics of good read-alouds

Good read-alouds can appeal to children of different ages. Good read-aloud books have action, strong characters, interesting dialogue, and a clear story line. Colorful illustrations can also help your children follow what's happening. Folktales and fairytales with colorful illustrations can enchant young and older children alike. Wordless books are also good choices because children of all ages can read the "story" in their own way.

Read different kinds of books together

While your children may prefer certain kinds of books, try to expose them to different genres, or kinds of books, including poetry, non-fiction, and stories. Different kinds of books will help broaden their knowledge of the world and increase their vocabulary. Involve your children in taking turns choosing the books for the day.

Establish a special time for family read-alouds every day

One of the most effective ways to encourage a lifelong love of reading is to make reading part of your family's regular routine. Reading daily will increase your children's vocabulary, their knowledge of the world, and their understanding of stories.

Find time to read one-on-one with your children, too

Family read-alouds can help your children learn more about books, about sharing, and about each other. But children also need some alone time with you, when they can choose the books they like, ask as many questions as they like, and read aloud themselves.

Adapting book reading for two

As you read aloud, take your cues from your children to make the book reading experience meaningful. Consider these tips as you read to two.

Find ways to engage both your children

Often, older children memorize portions of favorite books, so you might suggest that they "read" the story aloud. With your younger child, point out the pictures and talk about what they are. You and your older child can also create challenges for the younger child. For instance, ask her to find all the pictures of dogs or all the pictures of babies. As your child gets older, you can involve her more in the story, by encouraging her to think about what the baby is doing and what might happen next. And don't get worried if your children seem distracted. Even if they play with toys during bookreading, they may be taking in every word you say.

Make book reading an enjoyable experience

To make stories more interesting, you may want to change words or substitute the names of your children for the characters. Take cues from your children as to when to simplify the language, or when to talk about what is happening, or when to involve them in retelling the story themselves. Older children can even add new twists and turns. What is most important is that you and your children have fun as you explore the world of books together.

Expect interruptions

They are part of the learning process. When a child asks for clarification, he is actively engaged in making meaning out of the story. But too many interruptions can interfere with the story. If one of your children is getting frustrated with all of the interruptions, explain that you will read the story first, then discuss the child's questions later.

Talking about books

Talking about the stories you read together will help your children develop an appreciation for literature. At the same time, you will gain a deeper appreciation for how your children think, what interests them, and what they care about. Consider these tips as you "talk books" with your children.

Stop and chat

Asking your children to name objects or to predict what will happen next or asking them what they think about a character are simple ways to stimulate discussion about stories. By discussing the story, you help your children develop language skills and story comprehension.

Ask questions based on your children's interests and ages

If you have a toddler, you might ask her to label objects or point to the "Nanna" in the story. If you have a preschooler, you might help her to think about what happened in the story or to link the story to her own life by asking, "Does the Nanna in the story remind you of your Nanna? How?" Ask your older child questions that encourage him to read beyond the plot. Instead of asking, "What happened?" try asking, "Why do you think the author used that word?", "What part of the story made you think that the dog would be safe in the end?", or "What makes him a character you like?"

Use stories as a springboard for pretend play

Your children will delight in taking on the roles of favorite characters, whether it's Winnie the Pooh or Strega Nona. In addition to acting out favorite scenes, they can create new ones of their own. Play will help your children develop skills that are fundamental to reading by stimulating language development and the creative use of words. Moreover, as they create new worlds, they begin to acquire an understanding of characters, the structure of stories, and point of view.

Reprinted from the Reading & Language section of pbsparents.org

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"There is no frigate like a book, to take us lands away" — Emily Dickinson