How to turn a book into a lesson

Reading with your child (and encouraging a love of reading from a young age) is a cornerstone of virtually every education philosophy. And the best part is that it is an activity you can both enjoy doing together! If you’re unsure about how to talk to your child about literature or how to incorporate books into your homeschool lessons, try these six simple suggestions and prompts to make the experience more enjoyable and enriching for your little one.

1. Create the right environment.

Reading to your child from birth is one of the best foundations you can make to raise a lifelong reader. Even if you haven’t prioritized reading in the past, however, it’s still possible to start good habits now. Start by creating a setting that will encourage your child to linger over books. Find a comfortable spot on the couch or set up a “reading spot” with a soft place to sit, cozy blankets—anything that makes it warm and inviting. Try both reading to your child while they sit on your lap (for comfort and security) and reading while they sit in front of you so they can learn (imitate) proper speech and pronunciation by watching your mouth as you read.

2. Start with the cover.

From the moment you introduce a new book, look for opportunities to engage both abstract and concrete thoughts. Ask them what they think the book is going to be about. Have they ever done anything like that? If your child is letter-ready, talk about the title itself, naming the letters and the sounds they make.

3. Read at their pace.

It can be tempting to feel like the most important thing is finishing the book, but it’s important to let your child’s interest take precedence over the script. If your child points at a picture or asks a question, pause and talk about it. Always follow their lead once something engages them. Your goal is not to simply read through the pages—the goal is to get your child to love the story. If your child is simply interrupting to be silly or because they haven’t gotten into a habit of reading yet, redirect with modeling. Say, “What I see is…” and bring them back to the story in a fun way. But if your child is being silly, be silly! Then try to bring the story back to them. Which leads to the next tip…

4. Make it relatable.

One of your goals is to help your child take this two-dimensional world and relate it to a three-dimensional world by relating the abstract in the story to real life. Start by relating the present to the past. As you read, pause and ask your child if they have ever seen or done anything like what is happening in the story. Ask questions like: “Do you know what this is? Have you seen this? Have you ever done that? What happened when you did that? What do you use that for?” As much as possible, bring the story back to them.Later on, if something happens that you read about, reference the book. “Do you remember our book about the body? They showed a picture of an x-ray, and now we’re seeing an x-ray at our doctor’s office!” 

5. Make it fun.

Always go into a story with as much enthusiasm as you can to hold your child’s interest. Use different voices for different characters. Make the environmental sounds. Don’t point at the words as you read—let your child’s interest naturally lead the story. These simple things bring books to life and help your child connect the story to real experiences. And never water down the language because you think a word is too hard for your child. Offer a brief definition (if they ask), and keep reading.

6. When you’re done…

Ask your child what they liked best about the book. Was there anything that surprised them or they didn’t know before? And don’t shy away from re-reading. Children love to hear the same stories over and over again because they like knowing what is going to happen and understanding. To keep it interesting for you, start tying in other lessons as you read. Ask your child to count the flowers in the picture or identify the shape of the mountains. If they are ready for sight words, ask them if they recognize any words on the page. Ask them if they know words that rhyme with words in the story, or if they can identify the first sound in a word.

But remember: You don’t have to do all these things every time you read. Follow your child’s interest to ensure a positive, engaging experience every time you open a book.

Esther Megias, MS Speech Language Pathologist
Esther Megias, MS Speech Language Pathologist

Esther has worked the last 25 years as an early intervention therapist working with children age birth to three.