Is your bedti­me story cutting it?

This week on the blog Viva Voice teacher, Tricia Morosin, shares her experience and top tips for making bedtime stories fun (and educational!) for everyone.

Bedtime in our house can go one of two ways – either my son is happily fighting sleep with every stalling tactic imaginable, or he’s an emotional wreck fighting sleep with every stalling tactic imaginable (how can one kid pee so much?). Either way, he demands a bedtime story and, as a Speech and Drama teacher, I’m always happy to oblige.

That’s because the simple bedtime story ritual doesn’t just help your kid relax and settle into sleep, it’s also an awesome opportunity to work on vocal dynamics and expression – even before they’re reading on their own.

For the real littlies…

Even if your munchkin isn’t yet reading (like my five-year-old rat bag), they are still learning how to read with expression by listening to you.

So, as tired as you may be at this hellish point of the evening, please don’t be tempted to read like a robot at the end of its shelf life. Or to speed through the picture book that’s standing in the way of your nightly Semillon (maybe that’s just me?).

Consider this a performance of sorts – channel your inner Meryl Streep and bring the story to life. Because, if your children are engaged in your storytelling, they’re more likely to love books and want to learn how to read themselves.

This tactic only works because he already LOVES story time, due to some pretty stellar performances from my husband and I… if we do say so ourselves. In fact, we compete for who tells the most awesome bedtime story, complete with superb accent work, character voices – the whole shebang!  (Naturally, I always win, but it’s cute that he tries).

For the older kids…

Ask them to read a story (or a chapter from their favourite novel) out loud for the family at bedtime.

Encourage:

1. Clarity of sounds

Tell them, gently, if you couldn’t quite understand a line or word (“what was that bit honey?”) and demonstrate the sound or word for them.

If there’s a particular sound they generally struggle with, practice it with them.

Note – tongue twisters are also a fun way to practice a particular sound. You can easily Google one (or check out our Viva Voice social media channels, because we often post tongue twisters online).

2. Fluency of reading

This is about not breaking up sentences or words with unnecessary pauses. We want lovely smooth sentences – it’s a bit like learning how to drive smoothly, without constantly jumping on the breaks!

3. Emphasis techniques

Every now and then, if they’re sounding a bit monotonous, ask them “which word do you think should stand out in that sentence?” “How can we make it pop?”.

Have a go yourself – you can demonstrate this by making your voice higher or lower, louder or quieter, faster or slooooower when you say that particular word. Think of the emotion, feeling or thought behind a line – how does your voice change when you’re sad, scared, happy etc.?

Take turns experimenting with all the different ways you could say that word or phrase.

3. Understanding the text

Is there a word or sentence you suspect they don’t understand? Ask them what it means and then figure it out together. You don’t have to know all the answers and neither do they, this is a chance to role model speaking up when you don’t understand something, because there is no such thing as a dumb question! Again, you can simply Google the word and usually a YouTube link comes up, showing you how to pronounce the word. So easy!

4. Pace and pause

Make sure they’re not running through the book so quickly that you can’t understand them. Remind them to pause and breathe at the punctuation. Pauses help us ensure the person listening can make sense of what we’re saying and pauses can also be used for dramatic effect – a bit like a silent drum roll!

5. Character voices

What do the characters say in this story? How can you change your voice to make it sound like that character? Have fun with this one! Give it a go yourself and laugh about it – don’t take it too seriously! If you’re making a goose of yourself, they’re more likely to give it a go themselves.

6. Volume

You obviously don’t want to be super loud at bedtime eeeek! But for those kids who are naturally super quiet, you could get them to imagine there is a little fairy or alien on the ceiling above them listening to the story.  They need to take in enough breath to send those words floating up to the fairy or alien, because the key to volume is breath – the more breath they take in, the loader they can be.

And last but certainly not least…

7. Have FUN!

Remember, the most important thing is that they enjoy reading. Have fun together and you’ll create a lifelong, confident reader.

So, please don’t pick your kid up on all of these improvement areas at once, or you’ll likely completely discourage them. Focus on one per night and go from there, remembering to praise them for all the things they’re doing well (even just having a go!).

Positive reinforcement really works. Choose books which align with their interests (e.g. we’re all about ‘Captain Underpants’ at the moment and even though the toilet humour is probably not ideal #badparent, I don’t actually care, as long as my little one continues to love reading!).