Have you seen the new Books category on the Yes Bebe website yet?
Surely every parent – Mr Wormwood aside perhaps – wants their child to grow up loving books? Most of us start reading to our children when they are very young – still babies, or even still in the womb. We have favourite children’s books from our own childhoods that we want to share, and build memories around new favourites as our children grow up. Books are magical for parents and children alike, and quite capable of creating lifelong bonds between parents, grandparents, siblings – families.
But there are also many obstacles to reading that can derail all our best intentions as our children grow up. Here are some tips I’ve found useful for helping us all to raise book-loving children.
Tip 1: Perseverance.
Some children simply don’t have the attention span to sit through a story. I know my twins struggled through most of their toddler and preschool years with this. But I ploughed on regardless, reading aloud even while they wandered off, fidgeted, fiddled and even fought! The day finally arrived that they sat still through whole books. This summer, at 5-and-a-half year’s old, we have moved on to short chapter books, and they sit mesmerised while my husband reads to them every night.
Likewise, researchers are beginning to recognise the importance of continuing to read with our children, even after they are old enough to read by themselves. Older children continue to learn how to pronounce words and how to use context to decipher them if we continue to read longer, more difficult books with them. You can take turns to read with them if you prefer, but shared reading past school age is a great way to help your children become lifelong book lovers!
Tip 2: MAKE time.
Sometimes, despite our best intentions, it can seem impossible to find the time to read together. It’s so easy to get caught up in every day chores that run into bedtime and realise we’ve got through the whole day without finding time to read with our kids. By making time to read – and making it clear that you are making the effort to MAKE time – you are telling your children that reading is important. You are also telling them that they are important to you, which is equally important!
Tip 3: its not just about bedtime.
A bedtime story is a brilliant place to start reading with kids. It sets them a lifelong pattern of reading before bed, which is doubly important now that our lives are spent staring into our devices. Did you know that the blue light thrown out by devices actually disrupts sleep, and that you will sleep far better if you spend at least 30 minutes before bed device free? You’ll sleep even better if your devices are in a separate room and so can’t disrupt your natural sleep patterns whenever they flash…
But it’s important to also read with your kids at other times. Next time your child announces they are bored, suggest that they look at a book with you rather than switching on the TV or tablet. Next time you go out to a restaurant, take a book to read while you are waiting for your food to arrive rather than relying on your phone. Next time they ask you a question, suggest you look for the answer together – in a book. Reading is not only about stories, and literacy is not just about reading for pleasure. Make sure your child has access to a range of age appropriate factual books that they can consult as well as fiction options.
Tip 4: Lead (or read) by example
How often do your kids see you reading? Do you consult books for recipes? Do you make time to read yourself? Evidence suggests that children who see their parents read for pleasure are more likely to grow up reading for pleasure themselves. A more literate home will generate more literate children – and literacy can be as simple as looking up words in the dictionary, hand-writing shopping lists on a notepad and having a bookshelf full of well-loved, well-read books. Simply put, parents who want their children to grow up to love books, need to demonstrate their own love of reading.
Bonus tip: kids will be kids
If, like me, you love books, it can be tempting to want to look after them, to keep them pristine. And children do need to learn to respect books, with simple rules like not writing or drawing on book pages set out from the start. But it is also important that your kids can get hands-on with books. Let your kids PLAY with books; incorporate them into play scenes and story sacks and accept that they will get chewed, ripped, possibly lost… Book nooks, likewise, are great, but integrating books into life in general is even better!
If there is a book you really love from your own childhood, or that was a treasured gift from a friend or relative, keep it out of reach and read it with your child. But if your child loves A Squash and a Squeeze, The Dinosaur or Eggs for Benedict, make sure those favourite books are available and accessible from an early age. If you really want to make sure you have a copy of Moon for your child to hand on to their own kids, buy a second copy to keep on a high shelf!
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