The importance of stories for kids in their 3 developmental stagesBy Renee Irving Lee and Ian Allan
Reading to your child is one of the greatest gifts any parent can give. Children whose parents read aloud to them every day are almost one year ahead of their same aged-peers who do not receive daily read alouds. There is no question that parents should be reading to their children as young as possible – but what are the best reading strategies for each stage of a child’s development, and at what age should you start?
Read to me early: The Unborn Baby
From roughly 25 weeks, researchers have found that sounds outside the womb are clear to the child in utero (but are about 10 decibels lower). These sounds are your baby’s connection to the outside world. There is no better way for a baby to get to know their parent’s voices than to be read a bedtime story. Not only does this enhance your baby’s brain development, but the calmness associated with reading also reduces maternal stress and anxiety. Here’s some tips on reading to your baby in utero:
- Sit, relax, and put your feet up. To enjoy a shared sense of serenity, be sure to only start reading once you’re in a comfortable position. There is no need to try and bend over and talk into your stomach.
- Incorporate other members of the family into your reading routine, so that your baby can get familiar with their voices too.
- Find books with good rhythm and flow. My personal favourites are On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman, Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney and Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
Read to Engage: Baby and Toddler (0-2 years)
First of all, it is important to recognise that babies and toddlers are not developmentally ready to sit still for long periods of time. We should be guided by both their interests and their abilities. Some gentle ways to enjoy reading and encourage early literacy are:
- Read to them when they are strapped into a highchair, car seat or at bath-time. These times are generally welcomed with the distraction of a book. And you have the added advantage that they can’t go anywhere!
- Read to them when they are drinking their milk. Whether it be via breast or bottle, milk time is a relaxing time for your baby and an amazing time to connect with them through a story.
- You don’t always have to read every word on the page. For longer picture books just summarise the page in one sentence. Slowly extend how much you’re reading to them over time until you are reading the full book.
- Ask your toddler questions or get them to point to different objects.
- Find books that are interactive. Toddlers love lifting flaps, pressing buttons, touching different textures, and smelling new scents.
- Let them hold the book while you read. Give them the independence to turn the pages. This might mean you keep reading the same page over and over again, or you go back and fourth between their favourite pages. Go with it and follow their lead.
Reading is Magic: The Young Child (3-5 years)
The 3-5-year-old age group is a magical age in child development because they are now curious and fascinated with the world. Their imagination is starting to develop, and books can provide them with a whole new universe to explore. I think the most important reading strategy for this age group (especially with a new book) is to just read the book from beginning to end.
Sometimes parents get caught up in asking questions and pointing out important messages. That can interrupt the flow and the magic of the story gets lost. In order to let children enjoy reading, sometimes it’s just best to get lost in the book. Other strategies that you can use are:
- Let them ‘read’ the book to you in their own way. Children of this age have an uncanny ability to memorise everything. You will be surprised just how much they can recall word for word of their favourite book. This experience is great for language and vocabulary development, understanding story structure, book handling skills, and self-confidence.
- Point to each word as you read it and talk about the text. Can they see any familiar letters or words?
- Engage in some ‘dialogic reading’ whereby your child becomes an active participant in the story. You can ask them questions to predict what will happen next before turning the page, or by asking them to create a different ending to the story.
- Let them choose the books they want to read. This is a great age to introduce them to non-fiction books about subjects that they really love to learn about; whether it be trains, insects, robots, or puppy dogs. There are books available on every subject imaginable.
- Read them funny books. There are lots of funny stories for kids out there. Our range of Why Dogs books are just one example.
No matter what reading strategy you engage in with your child, the most important thing to remember is to make it enjoyable. Reading should be fun, interactive and a significant bonding experience for the whole family. The more that children love books, the more they will want to read, and the more they will want to learn. Afterall, when you open a book to a child, you also open their mind and their heart!