I bought my son’s first set of books for him when he was about three months old – in utero, that is. I was at the final day of a book fair and the specials were never to be repeated, so I took full advantage. He was only able to use them when he was around three or four years old but that didn’t stop me from buying and stashing over the years.
Almost a decade later, here’s what I’ve learnt as a mum determined to pass on the love of reading to my child:
1. It’s never too early to start
New research shows that reading books with an infant can boost vocabulary and reading skills four years later, before the start of primary school. Dr Carolyn Cates from the New York University School of Medicine and lead author of the study said, “These findings are exciting because they suggest that reading to young children, beginning even in early infancy, has a lasting effect on language, literacy and early reading skills.” (ScienceDaily, 2017)
2. Read aloud
The benefits of reading books aloud can never be overstated. Not only does it create a healthy bond between parent and child, but it also contributes positively to their social and emotional development. Results of a new study published in the New York Times earlier this year show that the benefit of reading aloud and playing with young children has the potential to curb problematic behaviours such as aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty paying attention.
“The benefit of reading aloud and playing with young children has the potential to curb problematic behaviours such as aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty paying attention.”
So, make reading aloud to your kids a part of your daily routine. Most parents find bedtime the easiest way to keep up with this habit and it also serves as a way for their kids to unwind and relax before they fall asleep.
3. Visit the library and bookshops
One of my earliest and favourite childhood memories was my dad taking me to the library on a Saturday morning. Create memories with your children by visiting the library, bookshops, book fairs and book stalls at flea markets often. Books can be expensive and the library is a treasure trove for kids! Get involved in the activities available in your local library, especially during school holidays.
4. Make reading material accessible at all times
In order for your children to love reading, they need to be exposed to reading material. Be it books, newspapers, magazines and ebooks (yes, you can even use the iPad or your smartphone if you don’t own a Kindle or any other ebook reader) and ensure that your child is surrounded by age-appropriate content.
Keep reading material in the car so you don’t have to listen to “I’m bored” on car journeys or even in waiting rooms at the doctor or dentist. For babies, have a stash of board books in your nappy bag. Another great idea to encourage a love of reading and show the importance of books in your home is to create a reading area. This works well, especially for younger children. Choose a comfy spot in your home and fill baskets with books and magazines. Make the spot inviting so that your child will be drawn to it.
5. Feed your child’s curiosity
As soon as your toddler learns to talk, you will inevitably be bombarded with a hundred questions. As your child grows older, their interests will vary and you’ll notice their personality developing, making note of their likes and dislikes. During this time, watch carefully and seize the moment when a particular subject interests them – and use it as a reading opportunity. Borrow books on the subject or buy magazines or even Google articles and share the new information with them.
My son could barely speak properly at age two, but his intense love of cars was well-known among family and friends. Following his interest, I began buying car magazines and reading him books about cars (this included fiction and non-fiction, although he was more interested in the latter). As he grew older, his interest shifted to marine animals. By then he was old enough to happily borrow non-fiction books on sea creatures from the library. This also resulted in my own general knowledge expanding due to his interest in the subject.
Reading should be a relaxing and welcomed activity in the home. If you are serious about raising a reader, then you should be your child’s role model and begin reading yourself. Create your own family reading traditions in your home and in doing so, create wonderful lifelong memories with your kids.