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Parenting Resource Library

Why Reading to Your Infant andToddler is Important

Reading to Babies,
Toddlers and Young
Children
The Why? The What?
And the How?
This page answers these questions:
What is so good about reading to children?
Why read to babies?
What if I'm not good at reading myself?
How should I read? - Tips and methods for different ages
How do I choose books for different ages?
Note: we use 'he' to refer to your child. We apologise to all the
millions of parents of girls, but it is very tedious saying 'he or she'
every time. Of course, reading is for girls and boys EQUALLY.
What is so good about reading to children?
Reading to your child is the single most valuable thing you can do.
Why?
 it gives experience of different types of language, rhythms
and sounds
 research shows that pre-school children who are exposed to
plenty of language (books and conversation) tend to do better
at school
 it teaches about many topics which wouldn't come up in
conversation
 it is a wonderful way to bond with your child
 it is very calming
WARNING: READING must be FUN,
not WORK!
Reading, and education in general, are
serious matters, but they are only meant
to be serious for teachers and parents.
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If something isn't fun, children won't do
it. And they have BRILLIANT ways of avoiding what they don't want
to do: such as pretending they can't. Or making you feel guilty.
If your child doesn't enjoy it, he won't try. If he finds it hard, he
will think he is not good at it. Your job is to make it FUN and EASY.
But Babies? Surely Not?
Yes, babies benefit hugely. The effort of focusing on pictures
develops eye muscles. And each time he hears a particular word, it
imprints more strongly in his brain. Think: how do our brains learn?
They learn by doing. Each time your baby sees, hears, or feels
anything, brain connections form. Eventually, the connections are
strong enough to create a skill or a piece of knowledge.
I'm Not Good at Reading Aloud
You really don't have to be good at it. Read very slowly - that's
better for your child anyway as he'll be able to hear the words more
clearly.
If you feel your reading still isn't good enough, we have two
suggestions:
 practise reading a story on your own before reading it to your
child
 this is a good time to ask for help. There are organisations
which help adults with their reading. Ask your GP, Citizen's
Advice Bureau or Local Education Authority. It will be worth
it to be able to help your child.
How to Read
First, be comfortable, cosy and relaxed - both of you. On the other
hand, hearing a story can be very calming for a child who is in 'one of
those moods'.
Next, make sure your child can see the book the right way up as you
read.
For babies and toddlers up to 2 years
 point at pictures and say or ask names of things (depending on
age)
 use a slow sing-song voice
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 use different voices for different characters - be
entertaining
 spend time talking about the pictures before turning the page
 say a name and ask your older baby or toddler to point to the
item
 give huge praise each time your child points at and names an
object
For 2-4 year-olds
 give your child time to look at the pictures before you read
 ask, 'Where's the...?' 'What's that called?' 'What's she
doing?'
 always follow text with your finger as you read
 with familiar stories, see if your child can join in or finish
phrases
 ask questions like: 'Why did he do that?' 'What happens
next?'
 discuss things you both liked/didn't like and why
For 4 year-olds and over (and possibly some 3 year-olds)
 as for 2-4 year olds
 ask your child if he can remember the order of events in the
story
 try paired reading (sometimes called shared reading)
Special activity
If you think your child may be ready for a real reading activity, try
this: choose a word which appears several times (such as a name)
show it to your child and tell him what it says: can your child find the
same word again?
This is a first 'Look and Say' or 'Whole word' activity. For
information about Look and Say and the other methods of teaching
reading, click here.
FINAL TIP:
Let your child see that reading is part of your life. Do you have
books and newspapers in the house?
Choosing Books - For Babies, Toddlers and Nursery
Children
For babies
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Very young babies cannot focus
well. You need books with large, simple pictures. Bold red, green, blue
and black are usually best.
When you read to a baby you might be doing one of two things. You
could be pointing at the pictures and saying the names, which helps
your baby focus on specific sounds. However, this can become just a
little monotonous especially when your baby is more interested in
eating the book.
Or you could just read, so that the baby can enjoy the sound of your
voice and hear the rhythms of different types of language, even
though he won't have a clue what you are talking about.
Ideally, then, you need three sorts of books for a baby:
 bright, bold picture books to help focusing and identification
 books with poems, songs, or stories of any sort which YOU like
reading
 books that you can safely leave in the cot, so that your baby
develops a 'taste' for books. (Check safety labels carefully.)
For toddlers and older pre-school children
For children who understand most of what they hear, you need
different books. Let your child choose, though some 'guidance' is
often necessary.
You need these sorts of books:
 a variety of different types of language to read to your child
(including poetry, traditional stories and mystery as well as
everyday stories)
 a range of easier books with very few words, so that your
child can begin to 'read' independently, by remembering a
story which he has heard often
 books which your child really likes for whatever reason
Don't forget: the written word is all around us. We don't only read
books - we read shop names, road signs, shopping lists,
advertisements, birthday cards.... All are a chance to show your child
how reading works. There is even a bit of jargon to describe this
writing: ENVIRONMENTAL PRINT.
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© 2000 Nicola Morgan. Email:n@nicolamorgan.co.uk
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