Thursday, December 20, 2012

Creating readers from birth: Why we should read to babies

Our family had the joy of welcoming a 6th grandchild Lydia last June. I posted on this great event back then (here) and included a wonderful photo of Lydia's sister reading to her within minutes of meeting her in the delivery room. At just two hours she had been read her first book!

It's now 18 months later and I thought I'd share a video of Lydia 'reading' herself. From those first days Lydia has been read to by her parents, her siblings and anyone else that Lydia can persuade to read. She loves books and is rarely far from a pile. By 12 months she would sit with books, turn the pages, lift the flaps and try to vocalize as she revisited a story that someone else had read to her.

She has now moved beyond the page turning, pointing and listening stage, to active participation.  At this stage children will listen to the whole story, attempt to participate by saying words, making appropriate noises at the right time, and running their fingers over images, words and other features of the book. They will also pick up the books themselves and attempt to 'read' them. The video segment below shows Lydia re-reading one of her favourite books at the moment 'That's Not My Dolly' by Fiona Watt (illustrated by Rachel Wells).  In this case she becomes distracted part way through so her mum prompts her to close the cycle on the book. "Which one's your dolly?" 

So why is it important to read to babies?

1. It teaches them about language and the world.
2. It teaches them about books - their purposes, features, the way they work, the joy they give.
3. It creates a desire for them to read the books as well.
4. It builds your relationship with your child creating common ground and shared experiences.

Seven 'how to' tips?

1. Read from birth (some read while babies are in the womb!).
2. Read as if you assume that your child gets what you're doing.
3. Read as if you love the book!
4. Look at your child as much as you can, your eyes and your voice work in a kind of unison inviting reaction, sustaining mood and interest.
5. Make it as exciting as you can. Emphasize words, vary tone, volume, use pauses, change the pace, and provide gestures with your hands, arms, face and movement. Be silly if you have to! Reading aloud has a poetic or musical structure to it, which children will want to copy.
6. With more complex picture books be prepared to improvise by skipping pages (as the child takes over), shortening the text, emphasizing repetition, using your voice to help the child anticipate and predict. But try to sustain any patterns and the framework of the story.
7. Start in short bursts and build over time. When your child is 3 months you might not get more than a page or two before they try to eat the book! Persevere.

Above: Lydia's sister Elsie reading 'Where's the Green Sheep' Mem Fox, when aged 2

Other posts on early reading

'The importance of reading to and with your children' HERE
'How to listen to children reading - Part 2' HERE

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