Perhaps every night, you settle in with your kids for story time. Let’s face it: In everyone’s super busy schedules, that time is oh-so-precious. But you can make it even more valuable and boost the skills your child gets out of reading by asking a few strategic questions. As a bonus, it’ll make the reading experience more interesting and engaging for both of you!
“When you ask questions during story time, it really helps children learn to be active readers and to think critically,” says Tammy Milby, Ph.D., director of reading in the Department of Education at the University of Richmond. “When parents can get kids thinking and discussing a text, it makes story time a richer experience.”
Ask these questions before, during, and after a story to encourage your young learner to think about the text in a more in-depth way (it’s OK if she can’t read by herself yet). Take the conversation a step further by pairing them with these StoryPlay™ book picks below, which provide personalized questions and other reading comprehension strategies that help your child develop problem-solving abilities, memory strength, and much more. “It’s great if the text also has questions provided for the parent because those questions may be different from yours and can reinforce the reading goals you want to accomplish with your child,” adds Milby.
Before You Read
1. What do you think might happen in this story?
Jumpstart your child’s creativity and attention to detail! “This question helps children notice and think about clues from the title and illustrations,” says Milby. What’s more, it piques your reader’s interest in the book, while encouraging him to think about any background knowledge he has on the story’s topic to make predictions. In general, try to keep your questions open-ended (Ask, "What do you think this story is about?" rather than, “Do you think this story is about a superhero?”). “Open-ended questions facilitate conversation and vocabulary building by giving the child the chance to formulate a full response,” adds Milby.
Book Pick: Maybe a Bear Ate It! (A StoryPlay Book) — The comical cover of this book will give your child plenty to consider and predict — will he find out that a giant bear ate a missing book, or is the worried main character the culprit? This delightful tale encourages problem-solving skills as it takes young readers through a head-scratching mystery.
While You Read
2. What word do you think should come next?
Every so often, cover a word in a sentence and ask this question. “It helps with children’s syntax, because they’re indirectly noticing that they need to choose either a noun, adjective, verb, or so forth based on what helps the sentence make sense,” says Andrew DiNapoli, director of curriculum at the Baldwin School District in New York. It also encourages observational skills, since your child will choose a word based on what she’s learned about the story so far (perhaps every sentence ends with a word that rhymes with “cat”) or what she deciphers from the illustrations (perhaps there’s a rat in the picture).
Book Pick: The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf (A StoryPlay Book) — Your child may have an idea of how the classic tale goes, but this version adds a funny twist—making it a great beginner’s choice for word-completion questions. This story focuses on character building, all while bringing a chuckle to reading time.
3. What was that character’s name again?
Simple recall questions help you gauge your child’s reading comprehension, says DiNapoli. It’s common for a child to skim past words or names they’re not familiar with, but remembering these basic facts helps him to better answer more complex comprehension questions later on, and boosts attention and memory skills. What’s more, knowing all of the important details will help make the rest of the book far more engaging and enjoyable for him. If necessary, flip back through the pages to find the answer together.
Book Pick: Dinosaurumpus! (A StoryPlay Book) — Challenge your child’s recall skills by asking him the names of the dinosaurs — which include Deinosuchus, Apatosaurus, and Triceratops! — throughout this vibrantly illustrated book that blends prehistoric facts with roarin’ fun.
4. Which words do you think best describe this character?
When your child thinks about a character’s traits, she may begin to decide if she would make the same decisions as that character. It also encourages her to consider the relationships between characters. “Understanding those relationships leads to a better comprehension of the overall story,” says DiNapoli. “Seeing certain relationships — say, that between a mother and a child — helps the reader better understand the character’s ability to move through specific challenges and conflicts.”
Book Pick: Is Your Mama a Llama? (A StoryPlay Book) — This sweet story explores the unique traits of different characters and their relationships with each other, and gives your child plenty of fodder to consider character traits. Baby animals describe their mothers who happen to be bats, swans, cows, and perhaps even a… llama!
5. Does anything in this book seem familiar to you?
You could also phrase this question as: “Can you make a connection between what’s happening in this book and something in your own life?” “We want kids to make these powerful connections to their world because it helps them to better understand what’s happening around them,” says Milby. For instance, if you’re reading a book about animals playing in the snow, your child may point out how it was snowing when he visited Grandma upstate last week, or how he’s learning about the water cycle and weather patterns in school.
Book Pick: It’s Spring! (A StoryPlay Book) — Your child might notice how the singing birds, leafy-green trees, and rain showers in this rhyming tale reminds him of certain things he notices in the spring months, and can lead to valuable discussions about the changing seasons and nature.
After You Read
6. How might this story be different if it was told from another character’s point of view?
This question encourages your child’s reasoning skills. “At this point, they’re thinking about the big ideas within the story, but also the authorial moves that were made,” says DiNapoli. “The author made a decision by telling the story from a certain point of view, but if you tell it from another character’s point of view, the plot might change.” Consequentially, to answer, your child will need to consider how the characters, setting, and structure are connected.
Book Pick: If You Were My Bunny (A StoryPlay Book) — Animal mamas sing their babies to sleep in this charming book about comfort. Stimulate your child’s critical thinking skills by asking how the story might go if it was told from a baby animal’s point of view.
7. Can you make up a different ending to this story?
Your child will need to reflect on the story to answer this question, and will also need to think comprehensively about the various routes the plot could have taken. “If the theme of the story is honesty, then they might brainstorm other solutions to the plot’s conflict that reflect that theme,” says DiNapoli. For the more advanced reader, you may even ask, “Can you create an ending to the story that shows how the characters solved the problem in a different way?”
Book Pick: This Is the Kiss (A StoryPlay Book) — At the beginning of this book, something happens that leads to an entire sequence of activities that a mama bear and little bear do together — but what if things had gone differently? This simple tale gives early readers the chance to think comprehensively about plots and characters.