If, as an early years practitioner, you were to run a tick-list of the benefits of reading, you might include points such as cognitive development, vocabulary building and developing focus and concentration.
But would you also remember to include the wider, macro benefits of books? Above all, would you be thinking about the potential they have for developing minds and inspiring intrigue?
Everything is a wonder for a new baby, and you can open the doorway to a whole world of learning through storytelling. Children explore, and therefore learn, with their senses – and giving them the opportunity to get lost in a story, whether they understand every detail or not, is a way of contributing to an environment that is best for developing curious minds.
When reading, you are setting a scene for questions in older children and fascination in babies. As infants develop, curiosity inspires them to discover and explore. Reading together will inspire a toddler, giving them a safe haven to be curious, seek answers and capture attention.
Small group reading activities can promote playful discussion and inquiry, and support those inquisitive minds.
Even from the earliest ages, children can engage with books. Cloth, and other types of sensory books with bright pictures or tactile elements will stimulate senses and promote engagement with the world around the child.
It will start them on their reading journey and inspire their interest, whether they understand the content or not.
Promoting book sharing as an important part of the day within your setting will soon ensure it’s something that everyone looks forward to – and this should include a range of different types of titles, from familiar fairy tales and nursery rhymes, to age-appropriate non-fiction or reference books, such as Britannica’s Baby Encyclopaedia.
As you read, and show the pages, young babies will start to focus on simple patterns, shapes and colours - and whilst they won’t understand the meaning of the story or the characters quite yet, just hearing your voice and the different sounds, rhythms and pauses will set them up for great listening skills later in life.
If reading one-on-one to a toddler, have them help choose a story that they can relate to, such as one of the Big Steps books from Campbell, which are designed to help little ones cope with everyday experiences.
Storytime should be fully interactive - pause for questions if children are old enough to articulate them, and ask them to read along with you. Books such as You Choose (Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt) are great to prompt conversations as children start to talk.
If a child has a favourite story they like to hear on repeat, then mix it up with new sounds, voices and expressions, and get them to join in if they are able.
Talk to them about your own favourite stories. Children learn by example and they can be inspired by your love of reading, so talk about the adventures you enjoyed hearing about as a child and the characters you have been inspired by.
You could even bring in some of your childhood books to show them, if you still have any (or can find them in a local library).
Read aloud and focus on just a few pages if you don’t have time to finish the book. If it’s a new story, ask children to predict what might happen the next time you read – this way you’re inspiring their mind to be curious, and creating enthusiasm for the next time you pick up the story.
Finally, don’t be afraid to read the same story many times over. This repetition will help babies, especially, to recognise the speech patterns and language you use.
Watch young ones’ expressions as you read and you will notice the themes that inspire them, phrases that impact them positively, and the way they respond to the different pitches of your voice.
Britannica’s Baby Encyclopaedia: For Curious Kids Aged 0 to 3 by Sally Symes and Dr Amanda Gummer, illustrated by Hanako Clulow, is available now as a large-format board book (£20, Britannica Books).
Dr Amanda Gummer has a PhD in neuropsychology, a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education, and over 20 years’ experience working with children and families. Having worked in children’s industries for many years, Amanda is now widely considered as the UK’s go-to expert on play, toys and child development.