I read to my babies on the first day they were born.
I took a book in my hospital bag, and the first night I had them out in the big wide world, while still groggy from my c-section, I read them all a story, all wrapped up and snuggled in. I showed them the pictures and talked about what they were looking at. They blinked, trying hard to focus on the book.
I didn’t do it because I wanted to be a super mum or to show off.
I didn’t do it because I wanted to drill them in learning from the first opportunity.
I did it because I knew that babies need a bedtime story. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do, and I didn’t know if it was normal or not.
I did it because something inside me told me to do it.
From the midwives’ reactions in the maternity ward… it wasn’t a normal thing to do!!!
But, what I didn’t realise what how brilliant it was for them to have reading as part of their daily life even from before birth!
Apparently, reading with your baby has more impact on their development than their socio-economic background or the level of education you as a parent has gained! And apparently, children who are read to for up to 30 minutes a day are, on average, just over a year ahead in schooling compared to children who never read for enjoyment!
So reading with your baby is massive in terms of developing their literacy, language and communication skills, BUT reading is so much more than that.
Reading is also fabulous for the joy, fun and wisdom it can give your baby. From the first black and white simple picture books, to the deep, heavy books like War and Peace, there’s pleasure to be gained from spending time wrapped in a book, and where there’s pleasure, often there’s also a fabulous opportunity for learning.
As author and storyteller, Garrison Keillor explains,“A book is a gift you can open again and again.”
However, as a new parent or carer, it may not be immediately obvious how to read a book to a child! You may feel a bit embarrassed at reading out loud. Or you may feel it is not time that is well spent, especially if your child seems too small to be getting anything out of it. It may not be hard to read the words, but how can we make it interesting, fun and engaging for our baby…and for us?
Here are 6 tips that might just help with reading a story….
Tip 1: Choose an appropriate book
Babies: If the baby is under 3 months, choose a book with black and white colours as these are the colours that your baby will be able to focus on. Books with simple, bold, geometric shapes will be the easiest for a baby to focus on.
If your baby is over 3 months old, choose a brightly coloured, simple book with just a few, or no words at all. The words on the page don’t matter at this age – you can make them up. The pictures and the commentary on them are what are important.
Toddlers: Make sure you choose a book that is age appropriate with simple text and clear, bright pictures. Again, you can add to or change the words if you choose.
Tip 2: Enjoy the pictures
Spend time looking at the pictures in the book. Talk about them. Point at them. Ask questions about them. Take your child’s hand occasionally and help them to point at the picture you are talking about as well. This will help them to connect the picture with the words you are saying. The pictures are what will engage your child the most at this age as they will be learning visually.
Tip 3: Encourage participation
Encourage your child to join in as much as you can. Many children’s books are repetitive in nature, and encouraging your child to join in with a repeated word or phrase is a great way to help them with the development of their vocabulary. Ask them for their ideas about how the story may end, or what is going to happen next. This will help them to predict– and prediction is a really useful pre-reading skill. You will be helping them to think and to make connections.
Let your child turn the pages if they want to – it may take a bit longer, but it will be showing them how books work and how the writing moves from one page to another.
Tip 4: Ask questions
Ask your child questions about the story and about the pictures. They may not be able to answer them, but asking questions will help them to think about the story more and will be showing them how to find out about something they are interested in. If they are too young to respond to the question, still ask it, wait a while to allow them time to answer and then answer it for them. This will help them to become accustomed to the practice of questioning. Being able to ask questions in order to find out information is a fantastic life skill and one that will help your child with all their future learning.
Tip 5: Have fun
Young children absolutely LOVE silly voices, sound effects, a change in the speed of reading or the volume at which you are reading. You can even burst into song! Or add in a practical activity to go alongside the story; for example, you could make gingerbread men when you read The Gingerbread Man story. It will help your child to make connections between what they are ‘reading’ and real life. Don’t feel embarrassed. Your child will LOVE any fun that you can inject into the story and it will help them to be engaged and interested in what you are reading to them. If they learn to love to read as a very small toddler, they will in all probability remain a lover of reading for the rest of their lives!
Tip 6: Make reading special.
Take the time to really snuggle into reading. Find a comfortable place where you can really enjoy being together with your baby and the book. Make reading a special time. This will help your baby associate reading as a calm, fun, special thing to do together which will help foster a love of spending time doing it.
How will this help your child?
The benefits of reading to a child are huge! You will be…
Helping them to understand the different sounds in their language and how words are formed, and demonstrating how to say them correctly. This will help them with their reading skills
Teaching them to value books, just for themselves, but also for the knowledge that can be gained from them.
Encouraging their imagination and stimulating their curiosity about the world
Helping them to develop their own communication skills
Helping them to recognise emotions – both their own emotions and the emotions of others. This will help with their relationships and their own self confidence
Helping their writing skills
Developing their memory – which is an essential part of all learning
Helping them to bond with you as you snuggle up and sit close to them
The time you spend reading books to your child is time well spent. You will be helping them to learn about the world, to learn about themselves, to learn how to read, and more importantly, to enjoy books.
The poet and author Emilie Buchwald sums up the value of reading with your child very succinctly, saying,“children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”Enough said?!
Understanding more about why you are doing things with your baby, as well as understanding how best to do them is what makes the Oliiki programme special. We help you build your confidence as a parent by giving you the skills and understanding as well as the activities to know you are doing the very best you can be for your baby.
Download the Oliiki app today and make the most of our 7-day free trial. Confident parents breed confident children! We’re here to support you every step of the way.