All parents know that reading with their child before they start school is a good thing. But are we all doing it and more importantly are we all doing it properly?
There is so much written about the benefits of reading with children of all ages. However, when you dig into it, and boy have I done some digging, there are some really important nuances to how and what we read that I’d like to share with you. I’m a mother of 4 young children and a big ‘reader’ but some of these findings surprised me.
READING TO TODDLERS
For toddlers it’s all about expanding their vocabulary. They learn through repetition and associating words with objects. It’s not about getting through the whole book so let your toddler dawdle through a few pages, let them set the pace.
If they want to go over and over the same page then, as dull as it may be for you, you should let them. They all have favourite books and favourite pages and some of the challenge for you is being able to endure the repetition!
Pop-ups, books with textures, sparkles and bright colours are all perfect for your toddler (but don’t expect the ‘flaps’ to last forever, some toddlers seem hell bent on ripping them off). When your toddler is ‘pretend reading’ i.e. paging through a book with squeals and jabbers of delight, you know that they are enjoying reading. This is an important pre-literacy activity.
Another important point for toddlers is that by witnessing the interaction between characters in a book you read, as well as the contact with the storyteller, your child is gaining valuable communication skills. He or she is much more likely to be able to express themselves and relate to others in a healthy constructive way.
You also get to share some snugly time together which is very nurturing for both toddler and parent/carer – let’s face it we can’t get enough snuggles so grab the opportunity whilst you can.
READING TO PRE-SCHOOLERS
With pre-school children (ages 3-5 yrs) the style of reading has more impact on children’s early language and literacy (reading and writing) development than the frequency of reading aloud. In other words it’s about quality rather than quantity.
The ‘best’ reading is interactive. This means making connections to the child’s own experience or their real word rather than just describing the pictures that are on the page. Explaining the words that you read and why the characters are doing and saying things brings the book alive and helps your child to relate to and understand the characters as individuals.
So, for example, when you see a lion in a book you can remind your child of the lion they saw on a visit to a zoo, or even the one they saw on TV. Things like ‘doesn’t the lady in the book look like Grandma, they have the same coloured hair’ or ‘the boy in the book has a little brother like you do but they have different names’ and so on …
Make sure you ask your pre-schooler lots of open-ended questions e.g. “why do you think the lion is going into the woods?” This encourages your child to stop and think about the story, to practice their speaking skills and to ask questions. You in turn can then praise the child for their answers and offer them up a different perspective which in turn gives them more to think about and discuss.
You may find you never get to the end of the book but isn’t it better to let your child lead the discussion and so, for a change, you respond to them rather than the other way around?
READING FOR LOVE
Children feel very loved and secure when they feel that their parents have time for just them and are enjoying time with just them.
Children ultimately get to love books because they start out sharing them with someone they love.
Reading time with your little one is a very precious time and having spent all day rushing about those few minutes at the end of the day, snuggled up together, your little one all cosy and calm, are so magical. Please take the time to share a book with your child.