Reading aloud to your child is one of the great joys of being a parent.
It’s all in the sharing your child’s enjoyment of the story, seeing their imagination captured and their relish of familiar phrases and rhymes – not to mention plus the quiet cuddle time you can enjoy together.
“It’s never too early to start reading to your child and regular reading can have a huge impact on their development,” says Charlotte Billington, Project Manager at the National Literacy Trust. “Many parents don’t realise that reading with their child for just 10 minutes a day is enough to make a huge difference.”
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), that monitors the scholastic performance of 15-year-old school pupils’ in 70 countries. It covers mathematics, science, and reading.
As for its conclusion on the importance of parents reading to their children in its latest release from 2012? Unequivocal. “Parents’ responses show a close relationship between their own involvement and their child’s engagement in reading-related activities during the first year of primary school and their reading performance at age 15,” it said.
“For example, students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child ‘every day or almost every day’ or ‘once or twice a week’ during the first year of primary school performed higher at 15 than students whose parents reported that they had done this ‘never or almost never’ or ‘once or twice a month.'”
Reading with your child improves vocabulary and language skills, listening skills and concentration – essential for when they start primary school with the inevitable ‘carpet time’ and expectations of sitting still and listening to the teacher. Reading is also good for your child’s social skills and self-confidence, showing them ways to express their thoughts and emotions.
“Reading aloud to children helps to develop their listening and concentration skills as they follow the story and focus on taking in the information they hear. In a world full of distractions, reading to young children teaches them to sit quietly and to focus on just one thing. When they are old enough, reading chapters of books that you return to each day can also be great for improving their memory,” says Billington.
“Reading aloud is an important way of introducing your child to new words and increasing their vocabulary. Sharing the same books again and again helps children to understand and remember the language they hear.”
“Talking to young children while reading stories together helps to develop their social skills and reading aloud is a great way of encouraging two-way communication. Books introduce children to the exciting world of stories and help them learn to express their own thoughts and emotions.”
Basically, it’s a no-brainer not to read to your children. Plus, it’s a lovely bonding way to feel close and share something fun together.
Here are some tips on ways to make reading to your child even more fun for both of you.
Choose a book you like
Sounds obvious, but you’ll get more pleasure from reading it and your child will pick up on that enjoyment. If you’re stuck with, for example, the dreaded Thomas the Tank Engine and his ganging-up ‘friends’, reading will feel like a huge chore. No fun.
Take tips from other parents and your local library and check out the bestseller lists for books for your children’s age range. This is a great list of recommended books for reading aloud to children aged three to five provided by the National Literacy Trust.
Books you remember nostalgically as a child can be even more enjoyable read again to your own child; classics like The Tiger Who Came to Tea and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.
Give each character a different voice
Changing your intonation, pitch and speed makes the story come to life and keeps your child’s attention – and it’s fun for you. You could try making different characters talk higher and faster if they’re nervous and young, or deeper and booming if they’re a bit scary and big.
Do more than just read
Children love when you act along too: gasping and looking frightened will make them laugh because they’re not as scared as you. You can add on sound effects like animal noises, the wind whistling, cars roaring, and invite them to make the noises too.
Ask lots of questions
This builds the suspense, makes the book even more interesting and is a great gateway to other conversations. What do you think’s going to happen next? What food don’t you like? What would you do if that happened to you?
Repetition is good
Although you might want to try a new book, children love to hear a good story again and again. Plus, repeating actually helps to build your child’s language, so don’t worry if they’re addicted to one book (just make sure it’s not one you really can’t bear). There is nothing sweeter than a child ‘reading’ their favourite book, turning the pages and imitating your voice.
Talk about the pictures
Don’t just read the words, but point things out and invite your child to spot things. The more detailed the illustration, the more there will be to see every time you read it afresh.
Follow the story
As children learn to read, you can point to the words as you’re reading and even take turns reading bits. But remember reading together for this age range is all about the excitement of the story and having fun, not a homework task or checklist.
End on a cliffhanger
Keep their interest If your children are getting to the age where they prefer slightly longer chapter books or episodes with the same character like Horrid Henry or Mr Gum, leave them wanting more by finishing at an exciting bit. TV dramas use cliffhangers like this to make sure their audience comes back tomorrow to find out what happened and your child will want to too.