This week is national storytelling week and now that I have a 5 year old who has learnt to read I finally understand what all the pre-reading stuff was about. I now know why the health visitor told me to read to my baby. At the time I thought she was nuts – I could barely feed the baby so getting her to read was the furthest thing from my mind! However all the work that I put in (once we’d mastered feeding) paid off and my little one can now enjoy stories for herself. She can read her own princess books then throw on a princess dress and tiara and act the whole thing out with her sister! She can read sign posts and warnings signs whilst out and about so her understanding of the world has moved on. She can also read rude messages on mugs which has lead to an audit of china wear!
It was only when we got to the final stage, reading books, that I finally saw how everything I’d done from her being a baby was relevant. Often as a parent we’re told to do things with our pre-schoolers but we’re not told why. Presumably somebody out there thinks it might blow our minds!!! Or perhaps it’s that Early Years research is a high level of academia and they’re not that good at communicating their findings outside of the academic world.
Whatever the reasons I’ve taken some time to do a little research myself and translate it into something I think all parents with young children will find interesting.
1. Children love to play with books. They like to touch them, feel them, rip them! But this play forms an important part of their early learning. They learn that we read words and that the picture on the page is being described by those words. They learn that we turn the pages and that we start at the front of the book and work backwards (or vice versa depending on which language you’re reading in!). These are simple concepts that we as adults take for granted but we weren’t born with the knowledge and neither are your little ones.
2. At around the age of 2/3 your little one will enjoy reading the book back to you. Be prepared for a plot change!! This is their first step towards reading themselves. They still have a few years yet before they tackle the words but getting a child to ‘want to read’ is 90% of the challenge!! Encourage them to tell you stories from the books and it will pay dividends in the future.
3. Reading increases your child’s vocabulary. This is important because children who can say more words will ultimately be better at reading more words. Children who are read to from birth (or an early age if you didn’t manage it from birth so don’t feel guilty!) will have double the vocabulary of those who weren’t read to by the time they are 5!!! But again it’s never too late. Get reading!
4. Rhyme improves your child’s phonological awareness. Put simply, phonological awareness is being aware that words are made up of smaller sounds such as syllables and phonics and children NEED this to be able to start to read. Babies under the age of 1 will become aware of this concept and it is enhanced by reading to your baby. Rhyme is particularly important for bringing on phonological awareness and although you get most benefit from reading rhyme to babies it’s never too late to start. Singing also brings this on – never just say something if you can sing it!!!
5. Remember the ultimate aim – you want a child who reads for pleasure. Children who go on to read for pleasure perform better academically. This is a rigorously researched and statistically significant concept. We’re talking whole grades better. So make it fun for your little one. Drop your own expectations of how you think they should be behaving around books and let them take the lead. If they only want to listen to the first page then do that. If they don’t want to sit and listen then act out parts of the book with them instead. Be silly, play and have fun. They’re not going to think reading is fun if you’re shouting at them for not sitting still!