Reading to your child is probably THE most important gift you can give them. So why is it so important and how should you do it?
Children LOVE to have books ‘shared’ with them and you can start reading to your baby from their earliest days of life. Whether the book you are sharing has text or not does not matter. Reading with a child will be helping them to develop skills which will last a lifetime and will promote learning.
There are a few simple things to consider when sharing a book with your child;
Can your child see the book?
The first thing you need to do if you are sharing a book with a child is to make sure they can see the book! I know that sounds obvious, but I have seen well-meaning adults reading to a child so that the adult has a fantastic view of the pictures, but the poor baby would need binoculars to see the images! So, make sure the child is close to you, preferably on your lap or snuggled in, and has a clear view of each page. Help them to focus by pointing at images on the page as you read. Remember, if there are no words in the book, just talk about the pictures. Your child will gain just as much from this as if you were reading the text.
Getting close is important
Sharing a story with your baby is a fantastic opportunity to snuggle in and get close to your child. There is a huge amount of emotional bonding that will go on unnoticed whilst you are sitting with your baby or child, with both of you paying full attention to the book in your hand. I know that sometimes, you have to read a story whilst cooking the dinner with one hand, and feeding the cat with the other (!) but if possible, do try to have some time which is just devoted to your child and the book. It is worth it.
Is the book engaging for your child?
Check that the book you are reading has clear and interesting pictures. The brighter the colours the better as it will help your child or baby to focus on the illustrations. Talk about the pictures, pointing to different things that are interesting and asking your child questions about what they can see. Don’t rush. Take your time. You can answer the questions for your baby or child if they are not able to answer – that does not matter. They will be developing their language skills just by listening to you. They will be learning! Be led by your child – they may find things interesting which you may not have even noticed! Most children have an amazing eye for detail!
How engaging are you?!
Try to make your voice interested and animated too. Talking in a dull, monotone voice is a turn off for anyone...and babies and children are no different. They love to hear you getting excited about the train chugging around the track, or being genuinely interested in why the dog is chasing the ball. You will also find it is more engaging for you as well if you can fully enter into this reading experience. Your child will be learning to engage with books, to be observant and to ask questions – all of which are important skills.
Learning and life skills through sharing a book
Through sharing a book with your baby or child, you are helping them to learn and develop important life skills. They are learning listening skills, language skills, observation skills, comprehension skills, how to communicate, how to use their imagination, how to concentrate…and most of all developing an enjoyment of books. This love of books will last them a lifetime and it will prepare them well for learning to read, and write, once they get to school.
Rebecca Bellingham is Instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Columbia University Teacher’s College and she explains that by reading aloud with young children they:
“not only fall in love with books and reading, and get better at it, but they also learn to think deeply, to consider other points of view. They learn to listen, and they learn to look up.”[i]
Never think of reading to a baby or small child as ‘just’ reading a story. You are teaching them, they are learning and you are preparing them for future education. What you are doing is laying a strong foundation for them on which to develop life skills. So, keep reading!
If you have found this information interesting and challenging, please share this blog with others. It will really help to spread the word about the importance of reading to very young children. Thank you
 TEDxRainier, 2015, Why we should all be reading aloud to children [online video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBuT2wdYtpM&t=100s%29 [Accessed 16 October 2016]