Monday, 9 November 2015

Reading with your baby: An English Teacher's view

Every good parent in the world loves nothing more than to spend quality time with their child. Time where they are happy, content and engaged with what you're doing. 

One of the simplest and most rewarding ways to achieve these special and quality moments, on a regular basis, is by reading to/with your little one. Opening up a book and exuding your own excitement as you get to see what magic awaits in the pages bound together is the best way to begin. There really is nothing quite like it. 

Despite what the education sector of government may be reporting at this time, children do not progress in straight lines. What one child wants to read and can read well will be different to the wants and abilities of another child. As a result we need to make appropriate book choices for our little people - taking into account their age and their interests. 

We have read books to Jake since he was a bump in my belly. Since his arrival into the world, we've read at least one book to him everyday. I like to try and encourage Daddy Luke to do as much of this as I do, so that Jake grows up seeing the male role models in his life read - I think this is essential. Boys are highly likely to be 'reluctant readers' and often this is because they don't see other boys/ male role models reading.

Why have I read to Jake?
It is a well researched and documented fact (just look at papers written by publishers and universities, as well as educational researchers) that babies and young children who are read to go on to be independent readers themselves. The ability to read and to be able to access the wealth of imagination and information that exists in the billions of books available to us is one of the main factors in ensuring success and happiness in adult life. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve books - even if it's just the memory of having a certain book with me. 

I've ensured we read to Jake so that he will become a confident reader himself and so that he will learn the good habits for reading for pleasure as he grows up. I want Jake to be excited about books and about reading. 

What are the benefits of reading with Jake?
Babies and children who are read to or who have parents read with them are found to perform better academically. They are also  expected to develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures in the world. There is even research evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background does; it really is that powerful.

Other benefits of reading to children are that it allows them to develop their own ability to listen and feel comforted by your closeness and voice. This is certainly something we've seen Jake enjoy, as he now (at 13 months) brings his books to us and climbs on to our laps. He always finds a finger of ours to hold, and he touches our skin and nestles into our bodies as we read. Even when he's excited by the words and the pictures - that contact remains and he exudes contented happiness. 

Not only is academic success important, so is confidence. In my profession, I have worked with so many 11-18 year olds who struggle to read, or have never been read to and don't know the joy of reading. Sadly, I have worked with children in secondary education who struggle to access basic passages of text used in examination and seen them break down with utter desperation and self-loathing as they can't make head nor tail of the words written in front of them. I don't want my child to ever, ever, ever experience that feeling in the classroom. Nor in a job, later in life.

There are lots of others benefits to reading with your child though. Reading helps children to develop their imagination and the creative aspects of their brain, as well as the language and communication strands of their brains. Being able to access books means that they are able to open themselves up to experiencing different worlds, cultures and times - a wealth of experience and opportunity becomes available to them. Even better than this, reading allows children to to be happy - to laugh until their bellies burst! 

What are my tips for reading to your little ones?
In my experience as reading as a mum, an aunty, a friend and as a teacher - children love to listen to the rhythmic patterns of a story. I often read passages aloud to my year 11 pupils to model good reading - intonation, punctuation and meaning. You can see them get swept up in the experience of listening to and imagining. Some students I have taught have even said - 'Are you going to read the next part of that book to us, Miss?' So here are some tips to help you get reading at home with your baby:
  • remember that to babies and toddlers reading is still a form of 'play' - let them touch the books and the pages within it. If there are touchy-feely parts then guide them to explore these and make reassuring, fun noises to go with this
  • don't rush it - time is precious and difficult to carve out of the day. But even though I work full time, I still make time each night to read 4 or 5 books with Jake before we cuddle and put him into his cot. Daddy helps too, and will sometimes read extra books or will read books with him during the day. We don't see books as for bed time only - but they do always happen at bed time
  • get comfortable - sit somewhere you can get all snuggled up and feel like you're relaxing
  • try to bring the characters in the books to life - vary your voice, facial expressions and the sounds you make. Don't worry about being silly - your child will totally love it!
  • physical contact - make this time a moment of comfort and safety for you and your little one. If you can read in a way that allows some skin to skin contact - even just holding hands or them being snuggled into your face is enough
  • screen ban - turn the telly off and put the mobile phones down. Make this time for you and your little one all about them. Don't allow yourself to be distracted
  • join or visit the library - free books and fun experiences! They often have baby/toddler sessions too
  • Read, Read, Read - read whenever you can and let your little one see you reading too
What are some of your tips for reading with your little one? xx


  1. I've read a few of these studies and always think that rather than being read to, having parents that read to you is probably what is causing the association to higher academic scores. Or perhaps that if you naturally more 'bookish' you are likely to do better in school.

    I still think it's really important to read books with your child, and we do it every night. It is paying off and it has becomed something our daughter also enjoys and looks forward to. Great tips here on why and how to do it!

  2. Thank you kindly for your comment. I agree - I think it is the 'parents reading' that makes the difference.