You can help your child to a brighter future by simply reading with your baby. We look at why reading with your baby is so important and how different genres have different benefits.

Reading with your baby – start as you mean to go on

How many of us can remember the joy of being read to as a child? the closeness of one-to-one attention, the thrills of our imagination as our favourite stories leapt from the page into our minds. there’s nothing quite like reading, as kim pickin, of the oxford story museum, explains: ‘stories help to develop children’s language and reasoning, empathy  and imagination. they help children make sense of the world. they help them think,  communicate and relate to others. they encourage children to read. they are something  different generations can enjoy together.’ kim cites a study carried out eight years ago which  found that ‘enjoyment of reading has a greater impact on educational attainment than any  other factor, including parental education and income’.

Colourful characters

Think back to your childhood and chances are you had a favourite character in a book or  series of books that you read; it could have been Paddington Bear or Winnie the Pooh and his  friends. By loving a particular character in a book, a child can often be easily encouraged to  engage with literature, especially if they can, one day, enjoy reading the stories themselves. Their importance to a child’s sense of well-being too cannot be underestimated, as Wendy  Cooling confirms, ‘These characters become a part of life and their very familiarity offers real  comfort in a busy, sometimes impossible to understand world.’

A nod to novelty

If your child doesn’t appear to be as interested as you’d hoped in books, try not to make an  issue out of it. Some are more reluctant than others but it doesn’t mean that they eventually won’t catch the reading bug! There are tactics you can try to get them engaged in a story and the best of these, certainly from an early age, is reading novelty books together. These are  books that have something unusual about them – perhaps flaps that your child has to lift to see what’s underneath or wheels to turn or tags to pull. By offering an element of surprise they awakene curiosity and are great for reluctant readers, too.

For the hard times in life

Reading is essentially a pleasure but there are times in life when it can provide some relief  and solace. When a child has to deal with a stressful event such as the death of a family  member or pet, a trip to the doctor’s or dentist’s, or their first day at school, a book can help  them come to terms with what is happening and make it seem less frightening. Lindsey Fraser, national co-ordinator of Read Together, explains ‘Children who have explored such  difficult emotional areas within the safety of words and pictures in a book can draw on the  resulting understanding to inform their own reactions when specific situations arise.’

Spare me the stereotypes

It’s all very well reading traditional fairy tales to your child and letting them absorb the  morals they promote. However, what if your child starts to get unhelpful ideas in their head  that all princesses must have long hair, and that their role in life is to be saved by a prince?  Or alternatively that men are the doers and fixers in the house?

Books can help to combat some of the very old-fashioned ideas that still influence our child’s  way of thinking. Strong female characters who show courage and determination against  adversity are seen in such books as The Snow Queen, The Magic Paintbrush and in the  feisty heroine in Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants, while Simon Bartram’s funny picture book Man on the Moon explored the life of Bob – the man who has to keep the moon spic and span!

Keep them reading

Once you’ve got a child interested in books you probably won’t have to work very hard to  keep them reaching for their bookshelves. However, traditionally it has been said that boys  can be harder to engage than girls, perhaps because biologically they tend to develop the  right side of their brain – responsible for learning languages – at a slower pace than girls.

Editor of the Ultimate Book Guide Leonie Flynn thinks that boys can be as avid readers as girls but it might need a little extra effort. Here are her tips:

  • Parents can help by supplying boy-specific titles by looking for titles that fit in with the boy’s interests – football, aliens, ghosts etc
  • Designate a set time for reading every day, as it’s easy for boys to get sidetracked by other things. It need only be ten minutes, but that regular slot to helps with reading momentum.
  • Take on a teacher’s role when you read with your child. ‘Listen to him read but don’t worry if he stumbles over words and don’t push him too hard too soon.’

We’d like to thank A&C Black for their help with this feature. All quotes were taken from The Ultimate First Book Guide published by A&C Black.

Editors Daniel Hahn, Leonie Flynn and Susan Reuben.