Once upon a time there was a little girl…
Reading fairy tales or stories to children has been a longstanding tradition – one we don’t even need reminding of, until now perhaps with an overload of TV and screen time. Parents and grandparents used to rock their children to sleep with a story or lullaby or fairytale. Now this tradition is in danger of being replaced with half an hour of cartoons before bed or a session on the Playstation before dinner. Choosing not to read to your child and opting to place them in front of a screen is forcing your child into a state of isolation.
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Despite all the evidence of how detrimental passive time in front of the TV is (e.g. the proof that children aged 8 months to 2 years learn 17% less vocabulary every hour they spend in front of the screen), millions of parents still dump their children in front of the TV, in front of moving shapes and “educational” video games. All this in the belief that they are expanding the intellectual abilities of their precious offspring. Now I’m not saying that parents should be focusing on getting their kids into university or college when they are still sitting in their high chair. My aim is not to throw children into the competitive arena early, rather to give them a strong foundation. This is achieved through
- routine: with stories consistently read at a certain time,
- the right kind of attention: having their parent’s full attention and physical closeness
- and stimulus: the book itself will awaken their imagination and not feed it passively like the TV.
Why kids who are read to are likely to be more successful
The kids most likely to succeed in tomorrow’s economy will not be those tired souls worn out from competition at an early age forced to memorise data. Instead it will be the creative thinkers, capable of solving problems and having independent thoughts. Reading to children is not about teaching kids to read, it’s about sharing stories with children. Reading to your child opens up a world of possibilities and new thoughts in their developing minds.
I started reading to my eldest when he was just 14 days old. For some mothers that may seem incredibly early and to others it may seem rather late – believe it or not.
Which camp do you fall into?
Here are some facts on how reading to your child can help them grow into successful adults. These might sway you to start reading sooner than you’d planned!
Benefits of reading to your children
Numerous studies show that reading aloud provides your child with ways of effectively communicating that positively influence their psychic and cognitive development. What does this mean in real terms for your child?
- forming a mindset for accelerated learning in future years
- anchoring the habit of reading, which makes them calmer and attentive
- building a strong foundation for your relationship with your child
In addition to the above, reading stories to your child from a young age has a decisive influence on their comprehension of language and the diversity of their vocabulary. This stands them in good stead when they start school, e.g. helps them better understand written text. Plus let’s not forget it is fun to listen to stories. The experience gives them deep sensorial and emotional pleasure, especially if they are snuggled up to you or on your lap. This is why I am a firm believer in developing the habit of reading to preschool children.
My mother thought my brother could read at 2 years since he was saying the right sentences and turning the pages at the right time… miracle boy? Well kind of. He had memorised the entire book. Stories stimulate a child’s memory. They remember the sentences and correct you if you read it wrong! A great way to actively exercise that big muscle in their head!
The following will help you read to your child
If you want to give your child a great start in life and set them off on the right page for success at school, here are a few tips to ensure your reading sessions are successful and effective:
What kind of books to read to your child
For younger children you could follow this general timetable:
- A few weeks old: lullabies and nursery rhymes – sing or recite these before bedtime, make it a sort of ritual that sends your little one into the world of dreams.
- 2 months: start to show them large images by placing them at a distance of no more than 30 cm from their face.
- 6 months: since they are in the grab it and eat it phase choose tough, non-toxic books with thick pages and bright colours.
- 9 months: your child will be able to pass the book from one hand to the other, start pointing and, if they see you do it, they will try to turn the pages.
- 1 year: they will hold the books in their own hands, turn the pages, so choose content with ‘everyday’ actions (eating, sleeping, playing) and animals. As for the contents, rhyming stories always intrigue and delight them most.
- 1 1/2 years: now you will “hear” the fruits of your labour as they remember what has been read to them and anticipates the sentences. Children mostly like books that talk about animals (especially if you imitate the noises they make!), other children and everyday activities they are familiar with.
- 2 years: the book is now part of their play toolbox – they will carry them around, play at being teacher and use them in their role playing games.
- 3+: by now you are both pros at this storytime stuff! Encourage your child to sound out words and read the stories back to you. Carry on reading to them until they naturally read by themselves.
- 8+: at this age I used to “assist” my son with his reading. Some of the books he wanted to read were a little beyond his abilities. I used to read a couple of pages, then he would read one. We would alternate. I’d help explain a couple of the big words, but not all. I found this gave him confidence. After a few months of this, he was off on his own with Tolkien’s Hobbit!
As for what books to choose – well you’ll find that Kiki and Friends offer fun, spirited and yet wholesome and progressive stories your child will love at any age. Their life lessons and the variety of characters are useful for your child’s emotional development, and Kiki of course is a firm model for self-confidence and positivity.
If in doubt for younger kids, classic fairy tales or fables are always a safe choice. They help them to project and express doubts, fears and emotions.
Top tip – read stories you enjoy too. Children like to have the same story told several times in a row, so it helps if you like listening to it too!
When to read to your children
Young children need to have structure in their day. They flourish with set times, not because it turns them into robots, but because it gives them stability and reassurance. This is something they need if they are to develop other areas of learning and understanding. You can ensure their basic needs are met and they feel safe by setting well-defined times throughout their day. Example:
- play time
- walk / outdoor time
- bath time
- bed time …
You can even set aside a time for reading after meals or before sleep, when you want to encourage the child to develop an emotional state of calm and tranquility.
By dedicating a particular time of day to read to your child, e.g. before bedtime, after meals, in the afternoon between games, while waiting at the train station/doctor’s/dentist, etc.…. creates the habit of listening and boosts the desire to learn to read by themselves.
How to read to your children
Reading should be a magical moment. Your child should have your complete attention. They love this. You are there ready to satisfy their need for closeness, curiosity and thirst for knowledge.
Use your facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture to reassure them all is well as you convey the content of the book. You walk hand-in-hand to discover a whole new world.
The way in which you tell the story, rather than the content, is especially important for younger children. Onomatopoeic sounds like a train’s choo-choo, a dog’s woof-woof, or a car’s brum brum can make your child laugh – and we all know the benefits of laughter for your child’s health.
Encourage your child to participate. Help them understand the written text by modulating your voice and using the right expressions in your face. As soon as they are able to answer, ask them questions about what you’ve read in order to stimulate their curiosity and emotional participation in story.
Let’s keep them motivated as early independent readers and keep up their confidence by helping them read more complex story books (see point 8+ above).
Where to read to your child
Choose a welcoming and cosy setting that is your reading space (this was helpful with my second son who was not such a keen listener – we made it our special time).
Ask them to choose the book. This gets them used to going to bookstores and libraries where there are lots of colourful books to choose from.
And if you’re not sure of your own reading skills, you can still sit with them and listen to audio versions as you turn the pages together or join Kiki at storytime. Either way, reading with your child is a step in the right direction towards their happily ever after.