Being a mum of a sixteen-month old with another one along the way, I naturally want my kids to be avid readers. Reading has been a lifeline for me in many different ways — serving as both entertainment and education as well as constituting ‘therapy’ on many occasions. I would love for my children to gain the same benefits and pleasures out of reading that I have.
After observing my daughter’s engagement with books as a little baby and as a toddler for the last 16 months, this is what I discovered about reading during the early years:
BABY (0 — 12 months)
- Start early. Surround your little one with cute picture books in the form of stroller books, bath books or cloth books with different textures. They may not understand what these are — but they will be exposed to the concept early on.
- Read out loud — daily. Your baby loves nothing more than hearing your voice. Talking to them encourages interaction and introduction to language. The key is to read to them directly — an audiobook does not count.
- Use all your senses. Sing the words of a book to your baby. Babies love listening to music and are more likely to engage in the story. Use visuals such as hand movements and gestures as well as colourful picture books to capture their attention. Babies also enjoy feeling different textures (wool, cloth, wood, sponge) with their hands. Books with textures enable interaction and are more likely to hold their attention.
- Eye contact. Always look your baby in the eye when reading to them. Eye contact engages them, is great for their self-esteem and teaches them to make eye contact, a great skill to have in later life.
- Respond to their sounds. Acknowledging their responses and responding back is great for keeping their attention and engagement as well as teaching them the art of conversation.
- Story time at the library. Take your baby to your local library for baby/toddler sessions. Many public libraries offer free nursery rhyme and story time sessions where the little ones are read and sang to. This group activity is great to kickstart a lifelong love for reading.
- Role model behaviour. If you want to raise kids who love to read, then be a reader yourself. Seeing you read will encourage them to read. This is the advice given by Elaine Mcewan’s ‘How to Raise a Reader’ and a timely book to read.
TODDLERS (12–36 months)
- Create a reading space. My daughter Arianna has a little reading corner in her nursery that is filled with little picture books, a couple of blankets, and some musical toys that play nursery rhymes. Every morning after breakfast, her favourite thing to do is go through all the books and turn the pages as fast as she can. She may not be ‘reading’ but at least she is absorbing the pages with curiosity and has a goal in mind: to finish the book. A little reading space allows her to get comfortable and quickly reach for her favourite books. Sometimes the magic is in the spaces we create for our children.
- Books that are a part of their cultural identity. When I was younger, my mother read me books written in my mother tongue, Gujarati. These were fascinating lingually and culturally — they were very different to stories written in English and gave me a different sense of belonging and insight into my cultural identity. I felt that I could truly empathise with the characters and it left me wanting to read more about them.
- Involve humour. Toddlers love to laugh. Laughing energises them and humour is great for cognitive development. Here are some great ones to get started with: Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss and Potty by Leslie Patricelli.
- Expression, expression, expression. Children are very receptive to different expressions and are more likely to pay attention to the story and characters as a result. Expression is also great for their cognitive development. They mimic and adopt these to communicate how they are feeling.
- Ask questions about the pictures and characters. Really engage your toddler’s imagination by prompting them with questions and observations. For example, ask them what ‘the cat is thinking’ or ‘what the little kids are feeling’.
- Expand their world. Expose them to diverse books, books that they would not ordinarily read that will open their mind. For example, books on travel and other cities, or books about space (for example, What’s Out There?: A Book About Space by Lynn Wilson) or marine life in the deep blue ocean will spark an interest in ideas that they may not come across otherwise. It will make them all-rounded and expose them to diversity.
POST-TODDLER (3 years +)
- Offer choices. Get your little one to choose between 2 different books. The act of choosing will get them to ‘own’ the book and they are more likely to be interested and engaged with it.
- Go to the library. Make their visit to the library an exciting and special day out. Immerse them with the variety of the books that the library has to offer but get them to choose only 3–4 books to take home and discuss the reasons for their choices.
- Practice at every opportunity. Wherever you go, use it as an opportunity to read words — whether it’s the supermarket, street signs, restaurant menus, give them exposure to new words. Watch them absorb these and develop their vocabulary.
- Encourage them to act out of one of the characters. Bring the book to life by encouraging them to act out one of the book’s characters and truly get underneath the skin of what the character is thinking, feeling and expressing themselves. This literally adds another dimension to their reading as now they are making sense of the book in greater depth than before. They will also enjoy the books more as a result.
- Tell their own story. Once the story has finished, ask them what would have happened if the story ended differently. Get them to narrate the story with a different ending using their imagination and creativity. Again it will make the whole reading process more enjoyable.
- Set a reading challenge. Reading challenges are fun and motivate your little one to choose a certain number of books and read them with a specific timeframe. For example, the reading challenge can include books: (i) set in a specific city or country; (ii) that is a collection of short stories; (iv) that’s funny; (v) a picture book.
- Introduce audiobooks. Now might be the time to introduce audiobooks which you can listen to together in the car or whilst tidying up at home. It continues to encourage you little ones’ passion for a good story. Audible is a great platform to download audiobooks and they even have a 30-day free trial to see if this is something helpful for you and your family.
- Children’s book festivals. An opportunity to meet their favourite authors or simply storytellers, this is a delightful treat for your little ones. The anticipation of the festivals and all the stories they will hear will only serve to deepen their literary interest.
- Start a book club. A kids’ book club with other mums is a great way to get the little ones involved in discussing the story, book characters, writing and essentially providing their own review or critique of the book. I remember English Literature lessons at school where we would talk about the characters and discuss the story in great depth and it was truly enjoyable hearing different perspectives and also being able to voice our own opinions.
- Turn to books during tough times. Being a book therapist (bibliotherapist) where my bread and butter is curating book lists for others and creating book prescriptions based on individual needs and circumstances, I can only emphasise the therapeutic power of books to heal, empower and inspire us. I would always turn to a book to help me work out a problem or seek consolation by connecting with other characters going through similar emotions or circumstance. Alternatively I would read to simply feel grateful that no matter what I was going through, it wasn’t as bad as what the fictional or non-fictional characters in the books that I was reading were enduring. Teaching them about the therapeutic power of books and reading during difficult times is an important life lesson.
- Always suggest books as gifts. When people ask what gifts they should bring for your little ones, always opt for a good book(s). This will grow your little one’s book collection and continue to build their passion for reading.
Do you have any tips for encouraging your little ones to become lifelong readers? Do share them below!
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