October 2016 Update

We all want the children we work with to have the very best start in life and to fly. The answer to how to achieve this may actually lie in an unexpected place – on a parent’s lap and between the covers of a Hairy Maclary book in babyhood and infancy. Seriously.

If somebody asked,”is it good to read to children?” most of us would answer, ”yes.” However, we might not be able to say exactly why. The research on the effects of reading to young children is actually extraordinary and fascinating! There is a mountain of new research which proves beyond all doubt that reading to young children is something that produces enormous benefits for them and these advantages are probably far greater than you could imagine!

So, what are these positive effects? And what does “reading to kids” really boil down to?

Three key points:
  • Read to them from an early age.

  • Read to them often.

  • Read to them with enjoyment!

To begin with, studies tell us that the earlier you start reading to a child, the better. Experts have noted the advantages of reading to babies from before birth! Although no-one is pretending that a 2 month-old can actually understand a book what they do get is a huge benefit from simply sitting close with their parent or caregiver, seeing the book and hearing the language spoken. This early experience has been proven to help a baby’s brain develop and it lays an important foundation for a child’s ongoing learning. Experts who have studied very young children who are regularly read to have noticed that these children concentrate more and show a much greater interest in books. For example, they will point to the text and try to turn the pages much more often than other children will, which are both signs of a child’s active engagement! Toddlers who are regularly read to will join in more with the reading process, as well as ask and answer more questions about the story than children who are not been read to.

Kids whose parents and caregivers read to them from an early age go on to become switched-on early learners whose behaviour and speech zooms ahead of those who are not read to. Furthermore, once these kids start school, we discover they have a huge headstart in their learning and they go on to outperform other children in all sorts of interesting ways. It is particularly fascinating that once they reach primary school, kids who have been regularly read to at home are not just better at reading (as we might expect) but they actually prove to be stronger at maths and science too. Research shows they do better than other kids right across the school curriculum and, as they go through their schooling, this advantage is one that will they continue to build upon. The positive effects of early reading to young kids therefore plays a big part in their future success at school!

So, how often does a child need to be read to in order to receive this benefit? This subject has also been thoroughly looked into: A recent Australian study tells us that reading to children 3-5 days a week (compared to 2 or less) will improve the reading age of an average 4-5 year old by a whole six months, while reading to children 6 -7 days a week will push that child’s reading age ahead by an incredible almost 12 months! So, how regularly we manage to read to our kids clearly has a massive effect on their own development as little readers! Those kids who have been read to – and read to often – are kids who start their school-life with an amazing educational advantage. So parents, if you can read 3 times a week to them, that’s giving your child a fantastic start to their learning. If you can manage 6 or 7 times a week then what you are giving your kid is, in fact, the best possible chance of becoming an awesome reader themselves! And studies show that this early advantage, once gained, is something that kids hang onto throughout their school years and beyond.

So, now we know that starting to read to children when they are really young and managing to read to them regularly is not just ”good” it is proven to be extremely beneficial to their future learning. The final thing that parents need to know for this fabulous recipe to work its magic, it that the reading must also be fun! Dorothy Butler, a New Zealander who was well-known for promoting books for babies and young kids, put it beautifully when she said, ”Children do not care to be taught, advised, cautioned or blamed in their books; they want to be entertained.” It is true, fun and enjoyment really are key to this process. Dull reading to a bored child will not be fun for anyone and it certainly won’t deliver the beneficial buzz we are talking about! Reading to our kids with enjoyment in our voice, engaging them with rhymes and songs, following their interests, re-reading their favourites (over and over) can be terribly tough when we feel tired and weary ourselves but these reading sessions needn’t be long. In fact, experts say it’s important that they should only last as long as your child is happily engaged. The most important thing here is that the reading experience for the young child is interesting, enjoyable, and loving.

The gift that a caregiver or parent gives to a child when they make a little time to read to them regularly is actually an enormous one! The wonderful results can be measured from a chatty toddler who is learning to talk, a primary age child who is all ready for school, right the way through to an older kid tackling a hard science subject with confidence. These are children who are off to a flying start thanks to being read to from when they were babies! So the three key points to remember to tell parents if we want to give kids this really, truly amazing head start in life are: Read to them from an early age, read to them often, and, last but not least, read to them with enjoyment!

Storytime FoundationOctober 2016 Update