Alison Davies explores the myriad benefits of reading to your youngest children, and explains how to go about creating the perfect environment in which to do so…
It’s never too early to start reading to children. Babies may not understand the words in a book, or be able to focus on the pictures, but they’ll still reap countless benefits from the experience. Being read to is comforting, helping them bond with their carers and providing a sense of security. They understand that they are safe, and enjoy being held and nurtured. They will recognise the voice of the reader and begin to connect with it. They will get used to hearing certain words, and how they sound, and through this they will get a sense of meaning. As they get older, they’ll be able to match this with the pictures, and come to a greater understanding of the words used. Babies who regularly experience books will grow to love story time. It will become a habit, an everyday ritual, and their literacy will improve immensely as a result.
Picture books are always first choice for reading sessions with babies because of their colour and subject matter, but in those early stages it really doesn’t matter what the book’s about. The important thing is that you have a book in your hands and you’re reading a story. How you read it is key. Think about the rise and fall of your voice and the tempo at which you’re reading. Make a point of turning the pages together, illustrating what a book is for and how it is used. Books that include rhyming phrases are a popular choice, because babies respond to the lilting rhythm. Also look for books that include interesting sounding words that you can repeat and create your own rhymes with. Cloth covered books and those with pull out features add extra interest and give babies the opportunity to explore with their hands. Allowing little ones the time to touch and feel whilst reading stories adds an extra dimension to the tale, whilst helping with movement and balance.
Think about the atmosphere you’re trying to create for reading sessions. You want babies to feel safe, secure, and comfortable, so it makes sense that you also feel comfortable and relaxed. You also want to engage them in the story, so make sure they can see both your face and the book.
Keep lighting neutral. Anything too bright will detract from the book and be uncomfortable for babies and small children; anything too soft might indicate bedtime. Stick with moderate lighting, but make sure that they’re able to focus on the pictures in the book. If it’s a one-to-one reading session, make sure you’re sat in a comfortable chair, or on cushions and mats. If it’s a group session, designate a special area for reading and fill it with comfy cushions, rugs and blankets. Sitting in a semi circle is conducive to storytelling, and it means that you can position yourself so that everyone can see you and also the book. If you’re working with very young children, get down to their level and let them touch and feel the pages. It’s important to introduce patterns and regularity into reading sessions. So try to make them the same time every day, and also for the same length of time. Keep to a structure, and repeat habits, like turning the page together every time you read a book. Babies and young children respond to routine. This is how they develop good habits, and begin to understand the value of reading.
Children’s experiences can be enhanced by introducing a ‘reading buddy’, for example, a favourite cuddly toy, that comes out whenever you have your reading sessions. The idea is that babies get used to the reading buddy and associate it with story time, and you can use it as a creative tool to enhance reading sessions as they grow.
Group storytelling and reading sessions are important because they give babies the opportunity to develop both pre-reading and social skills. Mixing and learning with other children gives them a sense of community.
Babies will get a sense of the story from the sound of your voice, and the inflections that you introduce; it’s this balance of tone and expression that will help them develop their vocabulary
To enhance your reading sessions, think about incorporating the five senses into storytelling…