Benefits of reading to young children
In this week’s newsletter, I wanted to include information about how important it is for families to read to their children from a very young age and to explain the many benefits that reading has for young children. Our hope is that families are engaging in this beautiful, shared experience with their children daily. We cannot emphasise enough how important this is for their development, but also to enhance their language fluency, pre-literacy, and school readiness skills. At Kornmehl, we read to the children every day at story time, but also during many spontaneous moments throughout the day, for example, on arrival, in the afternoon, while waiting to be picked up, during rest time and outdoors. The children also engage in a reading experience with their Year 2 buddies every Monday afternoon and also attend the Primary School Library weekly.
Mem Fox, an Australian writer of children’s books and an educationalist specialising in literacy, advocates reading with children for 10 minutes a day, which roughly equals three books a day. If you read three books a day to your child from birth, they would have heard around 5000 stories by the time they reach the age of five. Even if you only read half that many, or a third, that is still a wonderful amount of sharing, bonding, and learning that is taking place.
The benefits of reading to children are many. The human brain is most open to environmental influences in the first few years of life with 90% of brain development occurring between birth and the age of five. Research has shown that children whose parents read to them when they are young learn to speak, read and write more easily. What pre-schoolers know before they enter school is strongly related to how easily they learn to read when they start school.
Imagine learning to read is like building a house. You would not try and build the walls without first laying strong foundations. Emergent literacy skills, or pre-reading skills, are the strong foundations of reading. Children need to have these early skills before they can learn to read. Emergent literacy skills include:
- The ability to recognise and name letters of the alphabet.
- General knowledge about print, for example, which is the front of the book, and which is the back, how to turn the pages of a book and that (in English) we read from top to bottom and left to right.
- The ability to identify and manipulate sounds, also called phonological awareness (the sounds in words).
- Young children need lots of special one-on-one time with their parents and caregivers. Reading together is a simple and enjoyable way to take time out from hectic schedules and bond with your children.
- Books can help children discover the world around them. There might not be that many dinosaurs roaming the streets but there are plenty in books!
- Story time can be one of the most rewarding and memorable moments you can spend with a child, and one that both of you will treasure for years to come.
What do pre-schoolers like?
Sometimes it just takes one wonderful book to start a lifelong love of reading, but with so many picture books available, how do you find the books that will become your child’s favourites, the ones that they will remember as adults and then want to read to their children?
- You know your child best. Be guided by their interests. If they are mad about trains, read books about trains. If they are spending their days hunting for fairies, read books about fairies.
- All children love predictable books – books that have a pattern, a predictable plot or lots of repetition. These books are a great choice for pre-schoolers as they can guess what is going to happen next and start ‘reading’ them to you.
- Hearing and using rhyme is a fun way of making sounds, words, and stories memorable. Pre-schoolers love to chant along and participate in the story.
- Other characteristics of favourite books include humour, suspense, and imagination. If you are still stuck, then try well-loved, classic books that stand the test of time, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Who Sank the Boat? or Possum Magic.
Ten tips for sharing books with a pre-schooler
Sharing a book with a pre-schooler is a perfect opportunity to enjoy a great story, while helping develop their pre-reading skills. Children at this age learn best through play and experience, rather than formal instruction.
- Make sure the book is age-appropriate and about something that interests them. To develop children’s interest and enthusiasm for reading, books must capture their attention, captivate their imaginations, and make them want to return to them again and again.
- Make reading fun! Use expression and different voices for different characters. Tell your child the words and let them ‘read’ the part of their favourite character.
- Read as often and as much as you can. Be prepared to read their favourite books repeatedly. If they say, “Read it again!” you have found a winner. It may be boring for you but it’s essential for their brain development and early learning.
- Read the title of the book and talk about the pictures. Encourage your child to predict what the book is going to be about.
- Look at who the author and illustrator are. Do you know any other books by the same people? Make a list of favourite authors and illustrators to look for at the library or bookshop.
- When you read to your child, run your finger under the words from time to time as you read them. This will teach them that you read from top to bottom and left to right.
- Ask questions about the story, but make sure there is no right or wrong answer. Ask if there are any words they don’t know and explain the meaning of them.
- Provide a wide variety of reading materials such as non-fiction, magazines, poetry books and joke books.
- You don’t have to read just at bedtime – read any time of day, anywhere! Keep books near your child’s toys or play areas so they are always available. Take a book everywhere – in the car, while waiting for appointments, while travelling on public transport.
- Visit your local library together and let them choose some books to borrow. If they have chosen the book, they will be more interested to listen to it.
Shared reading can happen anywhere, anytime. The pre-school years are an important time in developing a lifelong love of reading, so try and make the time to read a book (or three) every day!
Below is a link to research conducted on the connections between parents reading to their young children and their child’s later reading and cognitive skills.