My parents gave me a love of reading; of words, books and language, from an early age. Being an only child meant I often had to come up with imaginative ideas for things to do and I believe it was reading so much that aided that. As an English graduate and secondary English teacher, instilling an early love of reading was high on my list of priorities when I became a parent. Primrose adores books, and we love reading with her (and now Wilf). They’re something I never feel guilty spending money on. Our local library is one of our ‘go to’ places and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is one of my favourite charities. Here’s why:
- It fires the imagination.
From the early That’s Not My… and Where’s Spot? books, through to our current favourites, such as The Storm Whale, Your Hand in My Hand, Shifty McGifty & Slippery Sam, Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes and There’s a Bear in my Chair we have travelled to far flung corners of the World and Universe, met all manner of people, animals and creatures: mythical, prehistoric and intergalactic! We’ve walked though forests, gone back and forward in time, swum oceans, flown into space and met people from all manner of countries, races, cultures and backgrounds. Reading a book means going on a journey with the characters, stepping out of our world and into theirs which, in turn, sparks your child’s imagination and creativity.
- It expands knowledge and vocabulary.
Children are sponges, sucking up everything they hear – the words and details of these stories, especially those read repeatedly, are stored away in their little minds. I’ll never forget the day Primrose, recently came into the kitchen and said, “Mama, I want a deputation!” As with many things these days, Thomas the Tank Engine was to blame for this gem. It is amazing what they remember, and how they manage to use words in context, too – she’ll regularly use adjectives like ‘hilarious’, ‘beautiful’, ‘frustrated’ and ‘cheeky’ in the correct way. Even if your child cannot talk yet, be certain that they are soaking up all these wonderful words.
- It teaches patience.
In learning to wait to turn pages and lift flaps, even the very young learn how to take time over reading, and soak up the words and pictures before racing ahead. In our fast-paced world, this is a really important skill to foster. More recently, Primrose has started to understand that returning library books, to which she often becomes very attached, means that other children can enjoy them too. The latter also encourages her to take responsibility for, and respect, books, so they can be returned in the same condition we loaned them in.
- It provides the perfect bonding opportunity.
Nowadays, it seems that we only get fleeting cuddles from Primrose before she races off to play, but reading always means snuggling up together and sharing in a story. I love watching her read with our friends and family members, too, as each person brings something new or different to a story. If we’ve had a fraught day, where I’ve ended up shouty or frustrated, I always feel better knowing that her last activity before bed is a story with Wilf and I, where he holds a little battery operated candle in the dark to read by, followed by a few more stories with Daddy in her room. On the nights when he’s working, she waits for me to get Wilf to sleep, ‘reading’ in her cot, and then I pop back in for stories and snuggles. I love the idea of her drifting off to sleep, dreaming about these characters and their worlds.
- It encourages empathy and an understanding of different emotions.
If a character is lonely, frightened, frustrated, happy or angry, we can name the emotion and refer to it when our children feel that way. Seeing characters behave with kindness, tolerance and humility provides an example of nice ways to treat others. Anything that helps little ones understand the way they (and others) feel can only be positive.
- It exercises their memory.
Ever read a story with your child only to hear it recited back the next day? Primrose has a few books committed to memory in their entirety, and recounts snippets from others. This often leads to imaginative play, where the characters and storyline from more than one book blend together to fit with what she’s doing.
- It helps them to concentrate.
Showing babies picture books from birth, moving on to short board books, through longer books with lift-the-flap elements and then onto longer stories gradually builds their ability to concentrate for increasingly longer periods, as well as furnishing them with the desire to sit and ‘read’ on their own. This skill will transfer into other activities, as well as into a school setting.
- It supports their writing.
Obviously this isn’t something we’re doing yet but, by reading, your baby or toddler is soaking up more than words and pictures. Syntax, rhyme, rhythm, sentence structure, sounds, punctuation, paragraphs, building tension and using techniques such as metaphor, onomatopoeia and alliteration… they’re absorbing all the technical aspects of what they’re seeing on the page. This naturally aids then when they learn to write themselves. As a teacher, I usually found that the most competent writers were the most avid readers.
- It stimulates their speech.
Children naturally want to copy, so when they hear you shaping sounds, pronouncing funny spellings and enunciating correctly, they will mirror that in their own speech. Mastering tricky words, words in foreign languages and colloquial dialects demonstrates resilience too, and accents and nuances in the speech pattern of a certain character will not only bring them to life but add to their spoken repertoire.
- It makes memories.
I’m not just referring to the actual act of reading here, but also the memory of reading that book – we all have our childhood favourites and can remember who read them with us and how they made the characters sound. Then there’s the memory of hunting for favourite characters when out and about – there’s a dark tunnel entrance near our local soft play and that, apparently, is where The Highway Rat gets trapped. Games and role plays spring from the characters and places in these tales. By joining in with your child and bringing them to life, you’re buying into this world they’ve created. It may not seem like a huge deal to you, but to your child, these scenarios are special.
Here’s the science behind the impact that reading has on tiny minds.
What does reading mean to you and your children? How do you think it has it shaped them? Do you read your own childhood favourite with your little one(s)?
Happy World Book Day!
Jo, The Mother Side xx
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