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How to Read a Bedtime Story

Updated on February 26, 2013
One of my son's favorite books.
One of my son's favorite books.

New parents quickly learn that one of the most important parts of raising a child involves rituals. Kids love rituals.

Even as infants, children like knowing what's going on and what to expect. If you habitually change your child's diaper right before nap and bedtime, then even at the earliest of ages, the child knows that sleep is on its way.

And even at that early age, developing a bedtime ritual that includes reading books is a good idea. Although reading a book to a six-month-old will frequently seem pointless, it pays off later as your child develops language and listening skills.

As my son, Tyler, developed his language skills, he loved reading stories at bedtime. Early on, when he could only string together a few words, stories were always interesting. Then, as he progressed, he began to memorize parts of the books and could eventually repeat them.

Now, at two-and-a-half, he's at a point where his communication skills are so developed that he doesn't pay as much attention to his stories as he once did. It seems that it's a combination of some kind of attention deficit problem or the fact that he likes hearing himself talk or that his brain development is so frenetically alive and he can't concentrate.

Whatever the case, our bedtime ritual of reading stories has turned into a bit of frustration as Tyler listens to the first few words then quickly finds something else to do. He'll grab a stuffed animal. He'll starting telling his own story. He'll try to engage mom or dad in a discussion. He'll try to leave the room. Whatever it is, the act of reading the story and the act of listening to the story have drifted far apart.

So here's a trick I have developed (okay, more like stumbled upon) that not only works (for now), but further develops Tyler's cognitive skills.

As I'm reading, I change key words in the story.

Because Tyler has memorized all his books (which could be the source of his boredom), he knows what's coming. However, when I change one of the story's key words, it forces Tyler to listen and pay attention. He not only stops what he is doing, but he fully engages with the story and makes corrections. Not only can this be a fun way to engage your child when he might be at a developmental point where paying attention is hard, but you can actually teach him new language skills.

For instance, in "The Mixed Up Chameleon" by Eric Carle, I sometimes just change the title to "The Mixed Up Iguana" to which Tyler usually says: "No, Chameleon." This is the most obvious of changes. Fortunately, the book lends itself well to the task of teaching as it provides a list of animals and characteristics when the Mixed Up Chameleon begins wishing he could be other animals. For instance, here is a line from the book:

"I wish I could be handsome, like a flamingo."

At first, I simply changed the name of the animal. I would say: "I wish I could be handsome, like a penguin." Tyler would enthusiastically correct me: "No," he would say. "Flamingo." After awhile though, as he gets used to what's going on, the effectiveness of this technique can sometimes wane, so I began changing the adjectives.

"I wish I could be ugly, like a flamingo."

This technique not only re-engages Tyler's mind, but can teach him opposites and make him aware of contrasting words. Here are some other lines from the book that lend themselves well to this technique:

"I wish I could be smart, like a fox."

"I wish I could see things far away, like a giraffe."

Certainly, you see how this can work. Take a look at the special books you read your children before bedtime. The time will come when they will grow bored, but you'll be one step ahead. Try this technique and I bet you'll be able to re-engage them and stop a lot of distracted behaviors that can turn bedtime from a soothing, quiet time into a struggle for control.


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  • leisa1980 profile image

    leisa1980 5 years ago

    I enjoyed your post and will keep your technique in mind for future reference :)

  • Carlon Michelle profile image

    Carlon Michelle 6 years ago from USA

    Wish I knew this technique when I was a nanny. Very nice.

  • HennieN profile image

    HennieN 6 years ago from South Africa

    Great hub. I have 2 boys aged 7 and 9 and have been reading stories for them since they were 6 months old.

    They now have a wonderful vocabulary, and enjoys reading. I believe we are under estimating the power of reading to our children!