As parents, we are the most important educators in our children’s lives. With some gentle encouragement, we can put them on the path to a lifelong love of books.
From the moment we find out that we are expecting, we want the best for them; we take all the recommended vitamins and exercise precautions, eat even more healthier and we talk to our bump. As our baby (and bump!!) grows our voice becomes recognisable to our unborn child and they start to pick up on tones and receive exposure to language.
Once our babies are born they are instantly soothed by the sound of our voice and can pick us out in a crowded room. It’s important then that we harness this curiosity at this early stage - now is the time to start reading books to them. Obviously babies don’t understand what we are saying, but they are learning. They are taking in the rhythmic sounds, our expressions, learning how to listen and more importantly you will be bonding. This will trigger a feel good emotion and your baby will start to associate reading with cuddle time, a perfect combination for both parent and baby.
As baby gets older, introduce a variety of material and chunky board books with lots of colour to their daily routine. They will be stimulated by the textures, colours and sights and will love to handle the books by themselves and may even attempt to turn the pages. These are all indicators that your baby is absorbing all the new information. Ask question such as “can you see bear?”, “do you see the red flower?”, “where is baby?” and point to the object you are talking about. Soft finger puppet books are great for this stage of development as you can really bring the story to life for your baby. They will enjoy watching your fingers dance about in front of them, Old McDonald was our favourite! Make it your mission to settle down, just after baby has had their bedtime bath and feed, to read a good night story with plenty of cuddles.
As baby approaches early toddler stage it’s time to increase the amount of books they have. We are not suggesting that you have hundreds of books, merely just moving out of baby books to more age appropriate ones. 10 books would suffice. Create a cosy den in your living room with some soft cushions where they can relax and “read” their books. Introduce books such as learning colours or numbers & patterns and try to get ones that have their favourite characters such as Paw Patrol or Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Although toddlers won’t be able to actually read the words, they will make a great attempt at toddler talk, which by the way will be the cutest thing ever. Place their fingers on the words and say it out loud “blue”, “green”, “house”, “car”, “four”, “eight”, etc and ask your child to repeat the word and point to the objects. Relate it to items in your house, eg ball pit balls - “can you get me a green ball?”. By doing this, you are confirming that your child is understanding what they are seeing in their books and increasing their word association. As before, make a bedtime story part of your child’s bedtime routine, by this stage they will be expecting it.
Once your child is a fully fledged toddler, sign them up to the Library where you will be able to borrow an endless supply of books. Let them browse through the hoards of age appropriate books and select whichever book they seem most interested in. Most libraries hold a free weekly Rhythm and Rhyme session, conducted by the library staff, which is a great opportunity for your toddler to take part in singing, dancing, playing musical instruments and enjoy being read a few stories. They will meet new friends, learn new vocabulary and communication skills and learn how to sit quietly with their peers during storytime. These sessions will create a reason for going to the library and once there, a chance to get a new book. Your toddler will soon start to get excited at the prospect of having an outing to your local Library and it will become like second nature to them - which is wonderful! By now, your child will be holding books the right way around and running their fingers across the words. At this stage, they will have their favourite bedtime story and it will feel like you are broken record reading the same story every night, but children love repetition, they like to know what’s coming next and enjoy being able to say the words before you do. This is fun for them and it’s a show of their memory skills which you will see are pretty impressive.
For older toddlers and pre-school aged children, now is the time to step it up a notch. Introduce your child to Book Shops. If you make a trip to the bookstore sound like a magical adventure, something exciting, then the chances are your child will really enjoy going to pick up new books, especially for them to own. When we started going to Easons at Rushmere Shopping Centre, this is where our Daughter found her love for Julia Donaldson books. We used books as a treat and rewarded her good behaviour with book tokens which she used to build up her collection. She absolutely loved it. By doing something like this, you are giving your child the freedom and confidence to select their own literary adventures, all you have to do is guide them to appropriate material. It would be a great idea to encourage your family members to give your child books or book tokens as presents for their Birthday or other special events. Take the time to settle down in the evening with your child for cuddles and story time. Let them look at the pictures to predict what is going to happen next in the story. This builds up their logical thinking skills and forces them to look closely at the pictures for clues and use their imagination. Once the story is finished, go back over it, this time asking questions such as “how many butterflies are on this page?”, “where is Mickey Mouse hiding?”, “what happened to Sofia’s crown?”. This exercise will build on your child's vocabulary and allow them to explore in greater detail things that they might have missed the first time around and it encourages them to fully interact with you, they might even start quizzing you on the story - so make sure you’ve been paying attention!
By the time your child has reached Primary School age, you will have armed them with valuable skills that they will find necessary to have in class. They will have gained listening skills, a wide range of vocabulary, prediction skills, they will recognise basic words in text, they will exhibit excellent communication skills and a better understanding of how books work - beginning, middle and end, i.e. sequencing skills. You will have given your child a head start on their path of formal education. While at school, your child will bring home weekly class reading books which they will be excited to read - a new book, who wouldn’t enjoy that? They will see this as a fun activity rather than just another homework add on. But I have to stress, don’t make their homework book their only story for the evening. Continue as you have done previously by ending the day with a bedtime story chosen by them.
Once your child is old enough for independent reading, let them read to you. Let them bask in the joys of being able to pick up any book and start reading for fun and be transported to another world. Sign them up for a book club, many libraries offer this service for free starting from age 7 years onwards. At a book club your child will be exposed to many genres that they might not have had the chance to explore. They will build on their discussion and listening skills as well as increasing their ever growing vocabulary, imagination and understanding of the world around them. They will meet like minded friends and broaden their horizons and knowledge. It’s important that you continue with the bedtime story routine to keep that bond between you and child growing, read a few pages to your child first and then let your child continue reading by themselves. Provide a night light so that your child can have 10 minutes of self reading before lights out. Remember, a book works the brain in the same way that physical exercise works the body - both are important.
Once you have a child who reads for pleasure, the world is their oyster!
“Oh, books, what books they used to know, Those children living long ago! So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”
Roald Dhal, Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryTagged with: advice for exam time, advice forum for mums, Encouraging your child to read, helping kids education, helping kids to read
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