I am a fan of children reading – that is no secret. I am also a fan of parents reading to their children.
New research is proving me right. There seems to be direct correlation between reading to toddlers and the language skills these children pick up even before they enter school. There is a lasting impact on children’s language, literacy, reading and writing skills for years after.
It is so, so, so important to read to our children. I cannot state this enough. However, this practice is steadily, and sadly, declining. Recent research shows that only about half of pre-schoolers are being read to, down from 69% in 2013. Some of the reasons for this are of course, time and energy. Parents are dealing with work and home commitments, and reading to your child unfortunately takes a back seat.
One of the surprising reasons that were stated was that parents are a bit intimidated by books. Parents don’t really know what to buy when they go into a bookshop. Don’t we all wish we could have Meg Ryan’s character, the owner of the bookshop “The Shop Around the Corner”, tell us exactly what books to buy our children at any age?
Parents who were not great readers themselves are naturally wary of a medium they are not familiar with. It is easier to put on an online video or the telly, which is what more and more parents are doing. It is not just that they are not reading to their children, parents are hardly buying actual books or magazines for them to read.
If you are not sure about what to buy or read, use the local librarian as a guide or go to the one in your child’s school and have a chat. You can get lists of books off the internet that will give you ideas no matter the age, gender or interests of your child. Take your child to Story Time or other readings that might be around you. If you don’t like to read, ask a friend or family member for help. Start reading yourself, as children learn from the adults around them.
It is difficult to raise a child who has command over language and communication, without surrounding them with books and the written word from a young age. Even if you are not someone who likes to read, at least buy or rent books your child will like. Make reading a commitment in your home that is as important as sitting down together for dinner.
I am not criticising parents. Lord knows we do our best and, as they say, parenting is the most rewarding thankless job in the world. We really don’t need to be told about one more thing that we should do with our children that we aren’t doing. But part of parenting is building memories. And I can tell you, some of the best memories I have built with my son Antonio is of us reading books together when he was a child.
I read The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl to my son at 18 months and had adventures with him whilst reading the Famous Five. We cried over Michael Morpurgo’s Butterfly Lion together. Curled up in bed with him at the end of the day, the discussions we had of emotions and values that we found in stories has definitely played a part in how he grew up and the person he has become. And this is what being a parent is about too – passing on your values and giving your children the benefit of your world view.
But don’t reach for your Kindle or iPad! Children have enough technology in their lives, and the glare of the screen before bed really messes up our biorhythms.
There is something lovely about a real-life book with colourful pictures on a page with the printed word. Turning pages together, listening to the world of a story unfold, builds a bond that transcends the other memories we far too often end up making as well – the shouting, even screaming, the teenage years of rebellion and lack of quality time for meaningful communication. But no matter for how long, the memory of those magical moments in bed reading a book by the dim light of the bedside lamp is one that you and your children will always remember, knitting you together even when they are adults.
Reading to your children should become a priority. It is important that you make the time to do this. It will save you and your child years of extra tutoring or struggles in school. This is because someone who is read to, and then who reads at an early age because of it, often become better students. They learn about language, their vocabulary improves, they are better communicators because they were exposed to tone and pitch early on and know how that affects us. They are also better natural spellers.
Reading to children builds a habit. Even if you were not read to as a child, don’t let your children suffer the same fate. Change the habits of a lifetime, to ensure that the life of your child going forward is a little easier, better and filled with the magic of worlds of wonder at their fingertips.