We all want our children to get the best start in life, and experts tell us that literacy is a key factor in determining how well our child will do in school, and beyond. But what is the best way to help your child learn to read?
There are plenty of ‘educational toy’ options – Baby Einstein, Early Learning programs, LeapFrog games, to name just a few. But as parents, we all learn one rule very early on: the only way to persuade a toddler to do something is if he wants to do it!
Making reading fun is the best way to encourage your child to try it and persevere with it and the simplest and cheapest way to do this is to expose your child to books and reading from birth.
Babies don’t have a lot of choice: their world consists of a tiny chunk of visual and aural perceptions. And from this tiny glimpse of their surroundings, they begin to learn – it’s astonishing when you stop and think about how much they take in from day one.
So what sort of things should you put into their world? First and foremost of course they need lots of cuddles and the loving faces of their caregivers.
Words of love and reassurance are great too. And then – how about books?
You might say, but isn’t a newborn a bit young to be forced into reading books? I say – no way! Chances are your baby will be exposed to TV and radio from a very early age, even if it is only when you, exhausted, collapse in front of the box with your wakeful newborn in your arms. If they are getting exposure to screens, then why not introduce them to books, a far more valuable influence?
That’s all very well, but where to start? From birth, experts tell us that the sound of their parents’ voices is all-important to babies. Reading aloud is a soothing way of giving our bubs the sounds they crave.
It doesn’t matter what you read – they won’t understand the words, but they will pick up on your presence and be comforted.
It’s a great beginning for later meaningful reading with your child. So read the paper or your book aloud as you hold your baby and let them be soothed by your presence and your words. Not only will you teach them to associate reading with feeling safe and secure, but you will also help to build those essential listening skills which will help to develop their speaking ability and language learning later on.
What books to choose?
When you are ready to introduce your baby to their own books, what should you look for? Newborns can’t process a lot of colour and detail – books for them should be small, and feature simple black and white shapes.
Shapes of faces, household items, even random patterns will do. There are more and more such books out there now, as the publishing world catches up with the latest scientific thinking. Your newborn will stare at these pictures, fascinated, for as long as you care to show them to him – or until he gets tired or hungry. If your baby does not seem to be looking at the book at first, don’t be put off. Persist and the baby will start to realise that what you are saying and what your hands are doing, turning the pages, is all connected.
They will begin to look at the item in your hand and discover its entertainment possibilities.
As your baby grows, after the first month or so, you will be able to share more detailed and colourful books with him or her. Soft cloth books and waterproof bath books are good, as your bub won’t hurt himself on the hard covers, and these books often have different textures and noises, which engage more of your baby’s senses.
Around three to four months (or earlier, if you like), a baby will become more interested in the book’s pages, and you can introduce hard baby books, known as board books. There are some great ones out there – look for touch and feel options to get your baby involved with each page. Don’t expect him to react to the furry rabbit, or lumpy crocodile straight away – give it a few days and a few reads for him to get the idea. Then he will try to touch the textures – whether his hand-eye coordination is up to the challenge is another story, but it doesn’t matter – it will challenge him and he will love it.
A book doesn’t need a story at this point. Simple pictures will do. You are introducing the concept of a book – that it has pages for turning, that you move from front to back, that there is writing on each page, which seems to dictate what the adult says and does, that there are pictures to illustrate what is going on.
These are the building blocks for a familiarity with books which will see children into confident literacy in the future, not to mention opening up a whole new world of imagination and inspiration.
As soon as your baby can concentrate on a short book from start to finish, start reading actual stories. Get hold of board book versions of some classics. Make sure there is plenty of rhyme, rhythm and repetition.
As your child grows they will be able to sit through more and more books at a time and may start to point or reach towards books that they want to read with you. Indulge them.
Your early efforts will have huge payoffs when your child runs to the shelf to choose their bedtime stories and you watch their language grow and develop. Reading together is a time to cherish, so get started now!
Did you read to your baby from a young age? Please SHARE below.