There’s no need to wait to begin reading with your baby. Although they may not be aware of the concept of words or letters until several years later, reading to your baby is an important bonding activity that can start as early as birth, or even beforehand! Some children will be reading simple sentences and first books by the time they start primary school, others will be working on identifying their letters by this stage. Whatever your child’s ability, this guide will teach you how to foster a love of reading with them at each age of their Early Years development.
It’s never too early to get started on reading to your baby. Not only will they love the familiarity of your voice, but it also teaches them the rhythm of our language and the natural expression we use within it. A Brown University study of 18-25-month-old children found that those who had been read to for more than a year could say and understand more words than those children who hadn’t experienced regular storytime with their parents. This early exposure to language will boost your child’s abilities and set them up to be motivated to read and write.
Once your child reaches six to twelve months, they will be interested in books that they’re able to touch or manipulate such as the Usborne Touchy Feely range. Board books with flaps, different textures or sounds will grab their interest, but don’t be alarmed if they attempt to mouth the pages which is a normal part of their physical exploration. High-contrast books are also useful as they stimulate your child’s visual development at this age.
By the time your baby turns one, they will have a greater concentration span and will focus better on the pages in front of them. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to point to pictures and label them to naturally expand their vocabulary. Ask them questions such as ‘where is the banana?’ or ‘can you see the cat?’ and see if they’re able to point to them.
At this stage, your child will pick up new vocab quicker if you’re able to pause slightly before you say the word. This gives their brain a chance to catch up and better absorb and retain the information.
Remember to put plenty of expression into your reading, perhaps using different voices for the characters, making animal noises where appropriate and generally being as fun, silly, and interactive as possible. Your child will love this bonding time and the more he or she enjoys it, the easier it will be to involve them in trying to read independently later.
Don’t be concerned if your child requests the same books on repeat. Although we also want to encourage reading a range of books, it’s fine and normal for toddlers to want the reassurance of familiar stories at this stage, and often they’ll want them performed the same way each time too! Use this as an opportunity to link the book to the child’s real world, drawing comparisons to the dog featured in the book with Granny’s dog, or showing sympathy for the boy who fell off his bike and hurt his knee just like your child did last week.
By the age of 2, children are ready for more complex stories and love those which include familiar scenes or activities such as trips to the park, the seaside or getting ready for bed. Pictures are still enormously important to children of this age, so choose big, bright colourful books that offer plenty of entertainment for your little one.
When you turn the page, give your child chance to take in the picture first before reading the text. If they string a simple sentence together such as ‘Park, fun’, try replying with an expanded sentence such as ‘Yes, you love going on the slide, the swing, and the roundabout at the park, don’t you?’. This will help your child to develop more vocab and the correct use of grammar faster.
Your child may now be ready for more advanced stories, where a character experiences a problem, tries to fix it and there’s a happy ending. As your child may now recognise some or all of their letters, you might begin using your index finger to trace beneath the sentences as you’re reading them. This can produce a revelation that the words you’re saying are written there in the book and not memorised in your head. Your child may start to pick out letters they recognise such as ‘O for Oliver’ or ‘S for Sophie’.
If you come across a new word in the book, make sure you pause and explain its meaning to your child. You might use synonyms to support this. It’s also important to use reading as a way to support other areas of their personal development, so make sure you discuss the feelings of the characters throughout the story. ‘Oh, the little girl doesn’t want to share – that’s a shame, isn’t it?’ or ‘Why do you think the policeman is angry with the robber?’.
Depending on where your child’s birthday falls, they might be starting primary school this year or will have a few more months left at preschool. Either way, your role as a parent will still be to read to your child daily. You should continue to provide plenty of opportunities for an interesting discussion about the book you’re reading and generally enjoy spending time together whilst doing so.
Alongside stories, you should also be reading a variety of non-fiction texts with your child such as information books about the human body, plants, dinosaurs, or the solar system. It’s always best to choose topics that will pique the interest of your child at this age. As your child begins to learn phonics, see if they can point out high-frequency words such as ‘I’ or ‘the’ which they may recognise, or ask them to try and decode a simple CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) word such as ‘cat’ in the text. This can be done by sounding out the individual letters first and then learning to blend them together to create the word.
Once your child begins to read comfortably by themselves, it’s critical that you don’t stop reading with them even in the years that follow when they progress to chapter books. Continue to have in-depth conversations about the characters, the plotline and make comparisons with daily life to keep your child engaged and on track for a lifetime’s love of reading.