I was born in 1977, which according to my children is ages ago, I disagree (mostly)! I grew up in a tiny place called Cockatoo Valley, in South Australia – it had only a petrol station to mark it on the map.
Baby Days: a going to bed book for babies and toddlers, is a simple, rhyming book following a group of babies through their evening activities, ending in a peacefully sleeping child. It has vibrant illustrations by Melbourne illustrator Annabelle Hale. The images show babies from many different cultural backgrounds. It’s a wonderful book for multiple readings and children will have plenty to look at and talk about as they listen along.
Why read to young children?
The message about the importance of reading to children, which includes babies, has been out there for a long time. It is the best present and ‘head start’ you can give. Reading books is time spent together building shared experiences and shared language, the memories of this are something they will carry with them forever.
As a teacher, it is fairly easy to identify a child who has been exposed to lots of books and reading. They just ‘get’ language and their vocabulary is far more extensive. Learning difficulties aside, they understand how letters form words which form sentences which all convey a meaning, with a purpose.
Tips for fostering a love of language
Read to your child from the moment she/he is born, repeat the same books over and over until you are sick of them, then repeat some more (this is particularly helpful when you are exhausted as you don’t even have to look at the words, you’ll know them off by heart and can close your eyes whilst you ‘read’!).
Sit your child on your lap and point to words as you read them.
Talk about the pictures, ask your child what can be seen.
Read with expression – it doesn’t have to be an Oscar winning performance, but a bit of pep in your voice keeps their interest, but also helps them hear the nuances of punctuation.
When reading familiar books, especially rhyming ones, leave off the last word of a line and see if your child can fill in the missing word. You’ll be surprised and delighted how early they will be able to do this. As they get older, try it out with an unfamiliar book – if they manage to fill it in, sight unseen, give yourself a high five, you’ve done a darn good job, they are well on their way to being ‘literate’.
Make up rhymes in conversation, they can be as silly or irregular as you like, but they will help your child hear similar sounds and build their vocabulary. A random example…‘come on Mum, don’t be a dork, let’s put on our gumboots and go for a walk’ or ‘okay kids it’s time for dinner, first one ready will be the winner’.
Only buy books with authors – there are so many wonderful books out there it is a travesty that cheap, mass produced and ‘soul less’ books are printed and sold at bargain stores. You’ll know the ones I mean as there is no author name anywhere on the cover. Support real authors, you’ll get better quality.
Even from a very young age, expose your children to ‘chapter books’. This will help them hold a story in their head and build on it, an important skill. It also widens their vocabulary and exposes them to different styles of writing. Check out the classics as well, don’t be afraid if there are old fashioned words in them, that’s something to talk about and enjoy as well! Have a dictionary nearby.
Audio books are a lifesaver on long journeys – there are great apps (BorrowBox is a goodie) that allow you to download hundreds of these for free via your local library. If my children are sick from school, they often lie on the couch and listen to a book. It gives me a break from reading too – as much as I love our shared book time, I can’t do it all day!
Speaking of libraries – visit often! It’s a free book store, they’ll also often buy in ones you request if they don’t have it.
Don’t stop reading as they get older – my eldest is now in early high school and I still read to her, although at times she does her own thing. Sometimes if there has been a book I’ve bought that she hasn’t liked (according to her) I start reading it aloud and before long she’s nabbed it for herself and is finishing it off solo!
There most likely will come a point when they really don’t want to listen to you read anymore, but you can still have a shared reading experience by ‘borrowing’ the books they read. Then you can have great discussions about the subject matter.
Encourage your child to read all types of texts, newspapers, magazines, brochures, websites, social media posts, instructions, forms, billboards – talk about the meaning of them together. Discuss who is the author and what their intention might be behind the writing. The more exposure they have to ‘critical’ reading the better, they become clued into questioning writing – fake news and scams are less likely to influence them.