Why Book Sharing is More Than Just the Words on a Page

We’ve all been there as a parent or an early years professional: You’re trying your best to do a ‘good’ job of reading the story. You’re reading enthusiastically, adding your voice and facial expressions to help children grasp meaning and engage with the story. You add actions, point to the pictures, and essentially turn the picture book into a dramatic production in an attempt to gain and maintain children’s attention.

The most important thing is to keep the interaction around the book positive...use it as a springboard for conversation

But despite your best efforts, you’re plagued with interruptions, random page turning and questions that have nothing to do with the story. While this might not look how you pictured story time in your mind, the good news is it’s still an effective way of sharing a book. The most important thing is to keep the interaction around the book positive and to use it as a springboard for conversations and discussions.

If we focus on just reading the book word for word, so many opportunities for discussion and conversation are lost. Through talking about what we see in the pictures and what’s happening in the text, we’re giving children an even bigger opportunity to grasp meaning and learn from the book. The story and the narrative are important, but there is also lots of value in pointing and naming, talking about how characters might be feeling and their intentions, and also summarising the story in your own words. Through these experiences, children are not only learning a story, they’re also learning how to interpret a story. It gives children a chance to participate actively as opposed to listening, which can be a passive activity.

When reading aloud, many readers tend to use a combination of reading and discussing the story. One approach isn’t necessarily better than the other, though studies have shown that for children to expand their vocabulary, the discussion that accompanies a story can be key.

So the next time you find yourself halfway through a book, and the child appears not to be listening, consider changing your approach. It’s okay to stray from the text and finish the story by talking about what’s happening in the pictures. There is still lots to be gained – and most importantly, it keeps the interaction around the book positive. Fostering that love of reading and a positive association with books and stories is the first step to helping children learn to read.