75% of brain development occurs in the first two years of life and reading aloud to children from birth has enormous benefit. It introduces babies to the structure and rhythm of language, forming the building blocks for reading and writing. This early experience will shape their future social, communication and learning skills. As they move to the toddler years and beyond, reading helps to develop their vocabulary, listening skills, concentration, stimulates their imagination, exposes them to new situations and supports their emotional development.
Literally from birth, get into the habit of reading to your child daily if possible. This will also help to strengthen your relationship with your child. In many families reading time may be the only really calm moment in the day so make time for it and savour it.
Listening to stories should not always be a passive experience just saved for bedtime. Whilst reading at bedtime helps to calm children down, try to read at different times of day, particularly over weekends or on holiday. Travelling is a great time to play audio books.
As much as possible, particularly if you have a young child who has difficulty focusing for more than a few seconds, make the book sound as exciting as possible. Involve your child in the reading of the story by using props, sound effects, funny voices, exaggerated expression, predicting what might happen next. Let them take on different characters and help with any rhyme or repetition.
It is so important to select the right book for your child. Every time your child really enjoys the experience of listening to a story they will be excited. If the book is uninspiring or they don't even like the 'look' of a book this will definitely affect their enjoyment and attitude towards reading.
Expose your children to a full range of different genres. Parents tend to read a lot of fiction to young children but many (especially boys) prefer non-fiction books linked to something they are interested in. They need to experience the different formats and structures of texts e.g. poetry, play, diary entry, recipe etc.
Many young children don't need much encouragement to develop a preference for a particular book. They may become obsessed with one book and want it to be read repeatedly every night for months. One way round this is for parents to allow the child to pick one book to read each day and the parent also chooses one.
Encourage children to read from memory or pretend to read. Even if they are not actually reading the words on the page, they are experimenting with what it feels like to be a reader. Encourage and praise that as much as possible. They may also like to 'read' the book just by looking at the illustrations.
From a young age, get children into the habit of talking about a book once it has been read. 50% of learning to read is about decoding but the other 50% is comprehension. Be understanding of their mood but when possible and they are really engaged in a story, ask questions like: What did you think of the story? Which bit did you like best? How do you think... feel when... happened? Can you retell the story?
A scary thought but children really are watching and taking in everything you do. How often do children actually see their parents reading and enjoying reading anything other than a screen? This is particularly important for fathers and sons. Ensure your child does sometimes see you enjoying reading for pleasure.
Sharing books with children teaches them a huge amount about the physical features of how books work, long before they formally learn to decode words on a page. Reading aloud to your child teaches them simple concepts like: Distinguishing between front and back, beginning and end. Understanding the directionality of print (left to right, top to bottom). Knowing that print carries meaning.
Parents play a hugely important role inspiring children to be readers and instilling in them a love of books. Most children do eventually learn to read but not all children become readers. Literacy is one of the most important tools for living so start young and try to keep it fun and non pressured.
By Rachel Vecht – Director of Educating Matters
Educating Matters provide seminars, webinars, courses and one-to-one consultations for parents/carers in the workplace, schools, homes and remotely. Covering a wide range of education and parenting related topics.