It is never too early to read with your child. Even babies in the womb are calmed listening to the sound of their parents’ voices. And once the baby is born, looking at and reading picture books together helps the bonding process. Make it a regular ritual in the home that the child looks forward to, a special time every day when your attention is wholly on them.
Although the younger child may not yet have the language skills to articulate what they learn when you read to them, if a parent perseveres, the dividend will be huge. When the little one turn two or three, they will start turning the pages of a book and saying the words. Children do what they see their parents do, so they may only be copying the sounds they’ve heard you say, but in so doing, the foundations of reading are laid.
Story time is a precious time for conversation with your child. And conversation is the building block for bonding. Research indicates that children up to even 11 years old enjoy parent reading-bonding sessions.
Be relaxed and assume a fun tone of voice as you read. Use lively expressions and gestures or even exaggerate accents and read dramatically if it increases your child’s enjoyment of the story. Read first just to convey the story, to establish the dramatic things that happen. Use the pictures in a book to help younger children understand the story. Then read the story again to enjoy words and explore ideas and learning. Also encourage your child to read to you, such that you take turns. Be generous with praise when they read.
Children are interested in technology so you can access stories online, on digital tools like the Storymoja Simulia reading app. But for children under eight years, bond with your child mostly on physical books, where they learn to read and turn pages from left to right.
The time a parent invests bonding over books has academic benefits. Many educational studies confirm that reading with children from an early age leads to better learning outcomes. Preschoolers with large vocabularies tend to become proficient readers. Reading fiction is the most effective way for a child to pick up new vocabulary because there are more words in storybooks than are used in daily life or in the mass media which tends to cater to the lowest common denominator. As Rosemary Mutunkei, of the Aga Khan Foundation, says, “Words are like people. The more you meet them, the more you understand them!” Encourage your child to use the words they pick up in stories in daily life.
But also bond over books by using stories to stimulate conversations with your child. Stories are a less confrontational way of bringing up issues and teaching a child the life skills and values a parent wishes to impart. Some story books add thematic exercises and activities at the back of the book. Do them with your child and feel free to make up your own questions inspired by the story. But keep the discussion light and conversational so your child feels free to open up. Give your child space to talk and guide then in way that lets them determine their own answers. Provide your own real-life examples of the life skill or issue raised in the stories your read with your child. Encourage your child to do the same. This adds depth and understanding.
In other words, treat story books as edutainment with a stress on the entertainment part. Do not set up your reading together session as an exam or extension of a classroom! Try not to be stressed if they are not reading or understanding at the level you expect. Trust that if you persevere, and keep it enjoyable, your child will eventually get it. As a bonus they will gain a life-long respect for books as a source of entertainment and learning. And by regularly referencing stories and quotations, your child learns to appreciate books as part of daily life and learning rather than just a tool to pass exams.
By Muthoni Garland
Head over to the Storymoja E-store today, discover a range of books to choose from to bond with your child today!