Let’s get back to basics

It is common knowledge that reading with kids is important. What is perhaps less common knowledge is why it is so important and how to read in a way that maximises the benefits for your child. But even before we get to the ‘meaty’ part, a quick refresh on some of the basics of who, what, where and when to read:

Who can read?
  • Start with babies – no age is too young
  • Reading is not limited to those who can decode words on their own (e.g. siblings can ‘read’ to younger siblings as a way to foster interaction and engagement/shared experience even before they are decoding words on a page).
  • Reading with others doesn’t replace you as the parent reading with your child (as the learning experience is entirely different). Rather it is a bonus extra that helps encourage the idea that reading can be anywhere, anytime and with anyone!
What to read?
  • Use your child’s interests and allow them to choose the book
  • Offer a variety of books in terms of complexity (i.e. preschoolers can enjoy going back to flap books and being given the chance to help ‘read’)
  • Choose books that will challenge your child’s attention span in terms of their length
  • Different types of books may encourage different reading strategies in parents and different interest and behaviour in kids (e.g. alphabet-rhyming books compared with storybooks). Observe your child when reading different types and how they respond.
Where to read?
  • Set up your space to encourage reading anytime and anywhere, e.g. make books available in every room of the house in a set location or box that is readily accessible. You can read more on this in the “Books, Books, Books” blog.
  • Small children may love the idea of a reading corner which supports the idea that interacting with books can be done independently also
  • Changing the location where you read can be enough for it to feel like a different experience, (e.g. take a picnic rug out and read on your back lawn)
  • Nowhere should be off-limits when it comes to books
When to read?
  • Embed reading into your daily routine
  • Keep reading to your child even once he/she is learning to read aloud. This will be at a very different level from what they comprehend when you read
  • Avoid limiting reading to bed time only – a child’s ability to interact with a text when tired can be quite different from when most alert

So with those ideas in mind, let’s come back to some of the many reasons why reading with kids is so important.

Why read with your child?
  • It provides a unique bonding experience with bonus closeness
  • Reading fosters imagination and gives kids ideas for play
  • It teaches early print awareness (e.g. which way to hold the book, reading left to right, what a word is etc.)
  • It encourages problem solving skills and prediction
  • Reading can help to develop shared attention, speech and expand a child’s vocabulary

There is also now much emphasis placed on reading with rather than reading to your child in order to gain the benefits discussed above. This means making reading interactive, rather than only reading the words that are written on the page. Some more specifics on that follow:

How to read?
  • Make comments about what you read more than asking questions
  • When asking questions, choose those that encourage your child to think ahead and make guesses (e.g. What do you think will happen next?)
  • Relate what you read to your child’s experiences (i.e. Remember the time when you saw a …. like that one)
  • Use expression and change your tone of voice to help your child engage with the characters
  • Explain tricky words by attaching to words they already know that are similar in meaning
  • Use your finger to draw your child’s attention to the words on the page

With all this in mind, successful reading with your child may start with a change in mindset. Let’s move away from thinking of reading as another task to cross off the list before day’s end. Instead, we want to view it as an opportunity for back and forth chatter with your child, providing rich teaching and learning as a two-way street.