Reading is an intrinsic part of our culture and a life skill your little one simply can’t afford to miss out on. Through the magic of words, kids can escape to fairy-tale castles, far-flung planets and deep dark forests. And if you can foster an early love of reading, your child won’t just benefit from the enjoyment of the stories that they can then read themselves, but they will also have the confidence to tackle any tasks they meet at school and beyond.
Our teachers do a brilliant job, but there’s just no getting around the fact that once they reach school age, your child will be one of a class of 30 and one-to-one attention will be in short supply. If you can grab their attention while they’re still young and encourage an appreciation of books, then this will go a long way to counteract any resentment they may later build up against the perceived task’ of making the letters make sense. This by no means necessarily equates to premature home schooling; rather teaching yourself to include reading and its associated skills as part of your family’s daily routine.
Choose visually stimulating books
Bright colours, fun textures and chunky flaps that little fingers can open and close to reveal the hidden characters beneath naturally fascinate babies. Children well into secondary school age tend to prefer books with pictures. So when you’re considering which book to buy, think about the design and the illustrations as much as the text – a good picture should capture the imagination and make the reader want to learn more about the story behind it.
Traditionally story time takes place at bedtime, and there is undeniably something very special about being tucked in by a loved one who is reading a story just for you. Most of us will then drift off to sleep to dream about the colourful characters in the books! It’s as much a gift for the parent or carer too, as you witness your child’s calmness at the end of the day.
Build story time into your bedtime routine from as early as your child can hold up his head to look at the pictures. Repetitive words and phrases will help advance your older baby’s vocabulary and more progressive narratives will stimulate your toddler’s comprehension. As your child grows up, more advanced books will entertain and stimulate as characters and plotlines develop.
And why stop at bedtime? Reach for a book any time you sense your youngster is getting overexcited, tired or bored, and see what a calming effect your words and the pictures can have.
Use songs and games
Any nursery setting will demonstrate just how much young children adore rhyming and action songs. Try to include tunes like the ‘Alphabet Song’ that will actually teach your child a skill as well as being fun to sing. At home, stock up on ABC jigsaws and board games. Playing with words and language will encourage learning in a amusing and, if appropriate, challenging way.
Nowadays, reading is taught by the use of phonics. So make sure to build sounds into daily conversation. For example, a Snake begins with the letter S and what sound does it make? And a Bouncing Ball? This is something kids catch on to more easily than you might expect, and you can have a lot of fun with it if you think creatively.
The outside world
Of course it’s not all about words on the page. Take your early reader out and about and point out road signs, supermarket displays and anything you come across along the way. Your child will soak up the experience and gradually understand how inherent reading is to society, and how necessary it is to help us live our lives.
Lead by example
If you’re forever glued to a TV screen, then your child will grow up thinking that’s the way to behave. So show them you read for pleasure too. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a book or magazine, fact or fiction; as long as they see the pages turning, it will do the trick. For a curious older child, perhaps discuss what you’re reading, and show them how much you’re enjoying it by your enthusiasm.
Providing you keep it fun, light and natural, then reading can be embraced with an open mind and the wonderful curiosity that is such a fundamental part of childhood.