How to make sure reading with your child has a happy endingTips from a professional Voice Over Artist and Actor

Once upon a time there was a child. They loved reading out loud. Then they became a grown up and had to read to their own child. Suddenly they felt shy, silly and found reading out loud a chore.

If this is not the happy ending you were hoping for, read on….

As we hit half term, and a break from the school routine, I have had a chance to mull over a comment made to be recently by a colleague. She said ‘your children are so lucky, you must be amazing at reading their bedtime stories’.

It hadn’t really occurred to me before that my children would benefit from my acting and voice over skills (although I’ll be sure to remind them of this when they are a bit older!).

However, the approach I take to reading can be adopted by every parent. Perhaps not with the exact same level of vocal talent, but that’s okay, because we’re talking about your kids, not an audience of theatre critics!

Reading well – as opposed to just reading – to your child is vitally important. It’s a special, rewarding and enjoyable time for both of you. But most importantly, it can influence your child’s enjoyment of books and create a passion for reading – a skill for life. This is one of the most important gifts any of us can give as a parent, opening up a whole world for our children as they eventually become independent readers and story writers themselves.

The more engaging and fun your reading style, the more you will bring the story to life and leave your kids wanting more. You’ll be a great role model too, showing your children just what can be done with a book, which will help them with reading aloud.

And don’t neglect reading to your older children. Adopting fun voices and adding expression isn’t just for a younger audience, where characters are witches, princesses or animals. An older child being read a more challenging book will benefit from an engaging reading style too.

When I realised how my performing skills as a trained actor and Voice Over Artist improve my children’s reading experience, I was inspired to write this step by step guide. I believe with a little confidence, effort and these useful tips, you’ll be treated to some wide-eyed, captivated little faces as you go about your reading performance too.

So without further ado…….

Stage 1: Are you sitting comfortably?

Yes, this is actually stage 1. You need to be comfortable and relaxed. Cast off the stresses of the day and be prepared to enjoy this time without distractions of emails pinging in, thoughts of work or what’s for dinner. Chill out with a cup of tea or your favourite tipple (you might not be able to hydrate before a company pitch with a glass of wine, but you’re at home now!).

Stage 2: Exaggeration and expression equals engaging (ooh the children love a bit of illiteration)

Most children’s books are just crying out for expression. So don’t resist it, go with it. If it says ‘she shouted’ – then shout! If a monster is supposed to be scary – roar like there’s no tomorrow! Vary your volume. Use different voices for different characters. Make the characters sound old, young, posh, silly. If you’re worried your performance is more cringy-worthy than Oscar-winning – don’t be. Your children will be laughing with you – not at you, I promise!

Use dramatic pauses. As you reach the end of a paragraph, page or chapter, slow down and keep suspense in your voice. Ask them what they think will happen next before you go for the big reveal.

Have a bash at accents and characters. Your child will love hearing an Australian accent for ‘An ouch in my pouch’, a Scottish accent for Katie Morag, your interpretation of the witch in Room on a Broom, or the mouse in the Gruffalo. This is one occasion when you can do a terrible accent, or a silly voice, and get away with it.

Stage 3: Again, Again!

This is what you’re aiming for – the children’s encore! If they’re saying ‘’again, again’’, you must be doing something right!

Now you’ve mastered an improved, engaging reading style, you can take things to the next level.

If you’re feeling brave, turn it into a play and act it out. Admittedly, this can work better with some books than others. But ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’ in our house was never read just sitting down – it’s just asking for actions. If you don’t fancy leaping around after a long day’s work, encourage the children to act the story out after you’ve finishing reading. This is your chance to sit back with your well-deserved cuppa/glass of wine and let the kids entertain you (with the added bonus of being able to check your children have been listening).  This is a great strategy to keep a well-read book going for longer, or for a child who can only sit still for so long.

Involve the whole family in the experience. Older siblings will love reading to younger ones (and most likely will do a fantastic job). It gets everyone away from the TV and gadgets for a lovely family moment. And if one of you is a less skilled actor, who cares! It’s not an audition, it’s a celebration of books and language.

Just have fun! Unlike a professional Actor, you have no standards to meet, no directions to follow and no harsh critics. If your kids are young, you have several years before they’ll find you embarrassing!

So release your inner child. Discard those inhibitions. Make every book as delightful as the author intended and enjoy your children’s wide-eyed adulation.

I was delighted to perform an audio version of the wonderful Julia Donaldson’s Monkey Puzzle. Listen to it here.  

Top 10 Children’s Books

Some books are just a pure joy to read and give great scope for acting, expression and interpretation. I’ve put together my top ten, but I’d love to hear from other parents. What books have you enjoyed reading again and again?

1.Some Dogs Do by Jez Alborough (Link)

2. Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Link)

3. Room on a Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Link)

4. Before You Sleep by Benji Bennett (Link)

5. Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

6. In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek and Christine Roussey (Link)

7. Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (Link)

8. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (Link)

9. Who’s in the Loo by Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds (Link)

10. There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly by Pam Adams (Link)

Posy Brewer is a Voice Over Artist and Actor with her own broadcast studio with ISDN, Source Connect Pro, SCNow and Skype facilities. Providing voices and voiceovers for animation, TV & Radio Commercials, promos, online and presentation videos, telephone on hold messages, video games, Voice of God and much more.