Books offer children a magical world of knowledge, of fantasy and of adventure, but how and when should you start reading with your child? Katie Thompson, primary teacher and Independent Usborne Organiser offers her advice on reading with your little one…
When should I start reading with my child?
It’s never too early! Reading to your child can begin before he or she is even born. Reading can be a great way of bonding with your bump. Baby will find the rhythmical sound of your voice soothing and will recognise the readers voice and perhaps even the story after they are born. This is a great way to help dads engage with bump too; It can feel strange and awkward talking to a bump but when reading a book there’s no need to think of the words to say. It’s easy for dads-to-be to feel distant and ‘left out’ during pregnancy but sharing a story can be a special time of bonding. Rhythmical, repetitive books are great for this, such as ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen or ‘The Gruffalo’ by Julia Donaldson.
A baby’s eyesight develops over time. Their ability to focus and use both eyes together as a team is a learned skill. Books can be a fantastic tool in helping develop your baby’s eyesight. Bold, high contrast patterns will hold even a very young baby’s attention and will give them an excellent opportunity to practice focusing.
As they get a little older they will be able to practice tracking, moving their eyes around the page to focus on different parts you guide them to. As they begin to be able to open their hands babies will enjoy the sensory stimulation of textured books such as the ‘That’s Not My…’ range. Always be careful that books you give to baby are sturdy board books as sensory exploration will inevitably lead to mouthing!
What are the benefits of reading with my toddler?
Reading books to a child of any age is one of the best ways to develop language. Even before they can speak themselves, listening to stories can help expand vocabulary and develop understanding. Books with repetition will reinforce language learning and you’ll find your toddler will soon be joining in with the story telling. Try to vary the tone of your voice as you read and ask questions as you go, even if your little one is non-verbal, encourage them to point, or go ahead and answer the questions for them - questions are fantastic for developing your babies understanding of language.
As well as being a great source of knowledge, books can develop children’s emotional intelligence and of course imagination. Books give children the opportunity to experience situations vicariously; a visit to the hospital, or dentist is far less scary if they know what to expect having lived the experience through a character in a book. Again, the use of questions when reading can maximise on this – ‘How do you think he is feeling?’, ‘Would you like it if that happened to you?’ Books are also excellent for kick-starting the imagination; your toddler will love re-enacting their favourite stories through role play. I remember many a welly-walk turning into a ‘Bear Hunt’ and sofa cushions strewn on the floor to become the bridge for The Three Billy Goats Gruff!
Above all, the largest benefit of reading with your toddler is that they are receiving one on one, focused quality time with you.
That 10 minutes of undivided attention is what makes reading such a special time for both you and your child. Perhaps you can factor this time into the bedtime routine; I’ve found it to be reward enough to motivate my girls through the chore of brushing teeth and getting ready for bed, and it means you end the day, whatever highs and lows you may have had, on a calm and positive experience together. It can also be a fantastic tool during the day to ‘reset’ the emotions if tiredness or frustration is kicking in – a book provides a distraction and closeness to you which is often all that is needed to diffuse a situation.
My toddler isn’t interested in books, what should I do?
Perhaps you haven’t found the right book yet! If your toddler is a bit of a whirlwind and snuggling up for a story is not their idea of a good time perhaps try books where they can be actively involved. They might enjoy sound books, where they press buttons to add sound effects to the story, or lift the flap books, where they can be involved in revealing the text to read. Books with items hidden on each page, such as the famous yellow duck from the ‘Farmyard Tales’ stories, can keep busy minds occupied during story time. If your child doesn’t yet have the attention span to listen to a story, they may instead enjoy a non-fiction book that you can dip in and out of or a book that has lists of items such as ‘199 Things On The Farm’ these books are fantastic for joint interaction, you can choose favourites or ask questions to compare, your toddler may well like to take the lead with the discussion and that’s great! Whatever you do, try to make reading a pleasure and not a chore. If your little one is not in the mood, leave it for another time.
Don’t forget you!
A great way to encourage your little ones to love books is for them to see you loving books. It can be so hard to find time in our chaotic days to even sit down, never mind pick up a book, but give yourself a week of trying to prioritise it and see what happens. You will find escaping into a book far more restful than ‘zombying’ out in front of the TV. Sometimes it’s tough to carve time out to read, but I never regret it when I do.
Where can I find the right books for my child?
The library is a wonderful place! Not only does it give you free access to a bountiful supply of books for your toddler to choose from, but I found my library to be a warm and welcoming refuge on many a tantrum-filled trip into town. There is calm, there is colouring, there is often a kind librarian who will read the kids a story while you take a deep breath and count to 10. Your library may well run song times or story times too, or even a simple visit to change your books can be a great way to fill a rainy afternoon.
Make a trip to your local library a special treat for your toddler. Choosing their own book and knowing they need to look after it gives books special value.
If you are looking to expand your child’s own book collection or thinking of buying books as gifts, why not contact your local Usborne Organiser who will be happy to advise you and recommend books that will be perfect for your child. Or if you are a book-lover and want to earn a flexible income around your family whilst also receiving free books for your children, I’d love to help you become an Usborne Organiser yourself, you can browse the entire Usborne online catalogue and find out more on my website www.katieslittlebookshop.com