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’.
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. www.ultimatebookguide.com