Reading aloud to babies and children is important in their early years and has an impact on their development and future learning. Stories can help children cope with many feelings and problems and they learn things about the world just by enjoying the story.
Why read with children?
Reading and story time can be a special time for parents and children to spend together. If it’s relaxed and happy it builds your relationship and helps children build their sense of security and self-esteem.
Language helps us understand ourselves and make sense of the world. Books and stories help children develop language and thinking.
Children who enjoy reading are likely to become confident learners. It can become a favourite hobby that they go on to enjoy for the rest of their lives. Stories can help children deal with the problems and fears they face in everyday life.
If you don’t enjoy reading or find it a struggle, you still need to show children that reading is important. You could tell stories, have books around the house and tell children you wish you had the chance to learn to like reading.
How books and stories help children
Young children can learn about the world from books. Showing simple pictures and naming what they are helps young children learn what things are called. Children can learn about people and their lives, things such as size, colour, shape and what things look like. From ‘The Three Bears’ children learn about numbers and space – that there were three bears, one father, one mother and one baby bear. They learn about big and little and inside and outside. Stories help children develop their imagination.
A love of reading is one of the best and most lasting gifts you can give your children.
Stories help children cope with feelings
When you read or tell a story which contains feelings it helps your child accept their feelings and understand how others feel. They learn they are not alone and others may feel the same as they do. This helps them know their feelings are OK. You can also learn how your child feels when you see them respond to feelings in the story. If they really like a book it may be because it has special meaning for them and is helping them with their feelings. When you read a story to your child it can show you understand how they feel. If you are reading about another child (or animal) who is frightened of the dark, it helps your child to understand that it is easy to be frightened of the dark. Hearing or reading the story many times can help children manage their feelings or fears.
Stories help develop confidence
Part of building self-esteem and confidence is knowing where you fit in the world. Stories told by parents and grandparents about family history – ‘When Mummy was a little girl’ – help your child develop this sense of belonging. This is even more important if you have come from another place or your family has been split up.
Special story time at bedtime can help your child look forward to going to bed, to enjoy being close to you and to relax, ready for sleep.
Books can help your child to escape for a while from the stresses and pressures of their world as the story takes her imagination to other wonderful places.
Reading and telling stories can become a special sharing time. It helps children learn to love books and develop a sense of being a lovable person.
Many children remember their story times for the rest of their lives. Most importantly they will thrive on spending time with you.
Tips for story tellers
Whether you read or tell stories to your children you will be helping them in many ways. It is best if you can do some of both but do what works best for you and your child. It is enjoying the reading and stories that counts.
Be guided by what your child likes but try a range of books or stories so they have a choice. Follow your child’s lead when you are reading or telling stories so they can be a partner in the reading time – read the bits they really like over and over again. Stop when they want to stop, skip the bits they want to skip. When using picture books that don’t have any words, make up the story about the pictures for your child. Visit your school or local council library. Ask the librarian to help you find things your child might enjoy. Borrow a number of books each time you go. If your child really likes one and wants it over and over again, this is the one to buy and own. Browse through second-hand bookshops or garage sales. Often really good books can be bought cheaply. This is a good way to help children have some books of their own.
Babies can start to learn to enjoy books from birth. Show them brightly coloured pictures and name the objects or sing a rhyme about the picture.
They will enjoy the warmth of your company and the sound and rhythm of your voice long before they can understand the words. They learn that books mean happy times with you.
Sharing books brings together the things babies need most to grow and develop; closeness, safety, touch, seeing, hearing, and learning about sounds and gradually learning what they mean.
Make story time part of your child’s bedtime routine. Stories need to be simple and short because toddlers have short attention spans.
Toddlers enjoy books with colourful pictures, simple rhymes and stories about things they know. Very young children often want their favourite stories over and over again. This can be important to them as