“The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.”
National Commission on Reading (USA), 1985
Research shows that children who read proficiently in the early school years generally perform better at every stage of their education.
Children develop literacy skills and an understanding of language long before they learn to read. Young children who are read to regularly have a larger vocabulary, a better understanding of concepts such as ‘over’ and ‘in-between’, and possess higher levels of phonological, letter and sound recognition.
- 20 per cent of Australian students are deficient in vocabulary on entering school, rising to 30 per cent for those in disadvantaged areas.
- Reading to children three to five days a week has the same effect on reading skills at age four and five as being six months older.
- Reading to children six or seven days a week has the same effect as being 12 months older.
Tips for reading to your child
- Make it frequent and at a regular time so that it becomes an eagerly anticipated ritual. Five to seven days a week is best. Bed time is ideal but any time when your child is relaxed and happy to spend downtime with you is perfect.
- Remove background noise and distractions (eg television, exciting toys) so that you can both focus on the book(s).
- Relax and get comfortable – find a cosy space, maybe dim the lights. Make it a special moment.
- Be enthusiastic – this should be fun for both of you; don’t make it a chore. There is nothing worse than being read a book by someone who clearly doesn’t want to be there or who is impatient to be somewhere else.
- Use lots of expression in your voice and face – if possible try to sit in a position where your child can see your face easily as well as the book. Use different voices or accents for characters, make sound effects, pause for dramatic effect – be creative with the way you read. Your child will not judge you on your reading style, they will be thrilled to listen to your voice.
- Read more than one book in a sitting, if possible.
- Discuss the pictures. This will help your child with their descriptive vocabulary.
- Ask your child to make predictions. What do they think the book is about? What do they think will happen next? This will help your child with storytelling techniques and understanding plot and character.
- After reading the book, chat about the story or the characters or themes. Ask them to retell the story in their own words or talk about what they would have done if they were a particular character. This will help their comprehension and encourage their imagination.
- Re-read favourite books – repetition and familiar words are the building blocks to learning to read.
- Read a variety of books – picture-only books, books with stories, factual books, rhyming text, prose, different genres – expose them to a wide range of age-appropriate literature.
- Take it beyond books – show them pictures in the magazines and newspapers you are reading and discuss the stories behind them, point out road signs (eg ‘STOP’) or the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ notices on doors, show them the words in menus and let them order, bring their attention to familiar words in computer games (eg ‘play’, ‘continue’, ‘game over’). Have fun with the words around you.
For inspiration on what to read to your child, try the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards shortlist, or the Dymock’s Top 51 Kids list, which is voted for by kids for kids.