Being able to read is a fundamental skill, an enjoyable leisure activity, and the key to broadening your knowledge of the world. So how can we instil the motivation to read in our children? How can we nurture their natural curiosity of the world and encourage them to seek answers in books or text, rather than relying on the instant gratification of television or internet?
The answer, it appears, is to start young. Encouraging babies to hold books (those lovely, chunky hands wrapping around little pram books) is a great place to begin. They learn that each little page has a new image or texture, and they are invited to explore the book in their own time and steam. They also learn the vocabulary labels of front, back, end and page. I found that these books were great for both of my boys in the early days, as the are very chunky and they can get their little fingers around the pages easily.
Your baby will enjoy sitting with you and having a cuddle whilst looking at a selection of books. The more you spend time doing this, the more he will regard reading as a positive experience. As your little one has a very short attention span it is fine to flip through the pages at their pace, not always sticking to text but labelling objects and commenting on the images. The more he hears vocabulary in the same context (and with a visual reference) the easier he will learn new words. I find these books great, as they repeat key vocabulary and also have the bonus of lots of different textures for baby to touch
As well as hearing language when you read, your child will be exposed to the rhythm and intonation of speech and this exposure is key to aiding their developing communication. He will also learn that reading is fun, it has a purpose, and keeps him engaged. If children enjoy reading from a young age they are more likely to choose books over television or computer games as a form of entertainment.
As young children love the element of surprise, and encouraging your child to wait and anticipate events can build their attention skills, flap books are a great addition to your collection. The classic “Dear Zoo” is a great one for reinforcing animal vocabulary. We started off learning the animal noises as these are obviously easier for your little one to recreate, and they LOVE experimenting with sound!
As your little one grows you can introduce books with more text. Books that have lovely, bright images and minimal text, such as “Hippo has a hat” and “One Mole Digging a Hole” are a good next step. These simple stories use rhyme very effectively, and also encourage vocabulary learning through categorisation of items (clothing and animals in the garden in these cases)
Sitting and reading with your child will encourage development of their listening and attention skills, as they learn to sit for longer periods of time. You should try to follow your child’s lead when looking at books together, and if they keep flipping back to a page you have already read you can let them do this (it is a good chance to repeat vocabulary!) Don’t push your little one to read for longer than he is interested, you want it to be enjoyable for him.
Noisy books are great for keeping little ones engaged. You can use these in many different ways to build understanding. Encourage your child to point to the object in the story that matches the sound, or say a word and wait for them to press the corresponding sound. We are enjoying this “Noisy Farm” at the moment
Toddlers enjoy choosing stories with you, and may decide on a ‘favourite’ book that they love to hear over and over again. It is often possible to get sticker books in the same series as your child’s story books, and this gives lots of opportunity to build and reinforce vocabulary.
There are some great books that help to prepare your little one for a period of transition, such as a new baby or starting pre school. They can also be used to familiarise your child with the vocabulary needed for learning a new skill, such as potty training
Ideally we would read to our children at least once a day. This can be before bedtime, as part of your routine, or at any point of the day when you need some quiet time. It is a good idea to carry small board books in your bag so that you can reach for them when in a restaurant or on a journey, and your child will learn to associate looking at books with being entertained (and it may give you some peace for a minute or two)
Children who enjoy looking at books and choose to read for pleasure perform better across multiple areas of the curriculum at school ¹ and are more likely to have a broader vocabulary by the age of 7 ². Being read to stimulates their social and emotional development as well as their knowledge of the world ³. Reading together also strengthens the bond between adult and child.
Today is a good day to start reading together more!
¹ Institute of Education - Reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom, study finds ² Mol, 2010 ³ Kwant, 2011