Reading’s a Family Affair
The simple act of reading to our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. In doing so, we give ourselves – our voices, our time, our undivided attention and a secure and nurturing space. Whether your children are babes-in-arms, toddlers, pre-schoolers or already at a later stage on their school learning journey, reading together is a way of giving and receiving that strengthens bonds and reaps life-long pleasures and rewards for all the family.
From about six months in the womb our babies are listening to us, learning the rhythms and inflexions of our voices, moods and heartbeat. And once they’re born, we speak to them in a singsong ‘parentese’ language that we just can’t help, and which they love and respond to. So it’s no surprise that young children enjoy the strong beats and rhythms, melody and repetition of lullabies, nursery rhymes, poetry and song. Aside from baby’s own ‘mouth-music’, nursery rhymes are some of the first learned utterances they can make, learn from and take pleasure in.
Reading together has many enduring educational benefits. Extensive research shows that reading with babies and young children strengthens neural pathways in the brain and plays a major part in the development of listening and language skills. It provides children with a head-start when they go to nursery and school, encouraging concentration, co-operation, sociability, creativity and empathy. Stories and poems can help them to learn new words, concepts and behaviours; they help us all to make sense of the world we live in.
Some tips to get you started
Keep books in your nappy bag for change-time; hang one on the buggy (but change it now and again too); keep some in the bathroom. Most good bookshops have a range of lovely cloth, plastic and heavy-duty chewable-but-safe books for little ones.
And reading together doesn’t have to stop as children grow up. In our frantic, digitalisedtechno-world, it’s a great way of slowing down, sharing and being a bit more mindful of the world and of each other. You may have to insist, and hide all the gizmos, but try to plan regular times to read together. Read as a family, with each having his or her choice of material. Get older children reading to younger siblings. Young children reading to grandparents. Treat your partner to a bedtime reading of their choice.
2. Anytime, any place, anywhere - but especially at bed time
Bath, bed, books and bobo – in that order – means the day ends with something really enjoyable and calming. Many parents have bedtime struggles but if you make the happy anticipation of reading together part of the bedtime routine, you can turn that around – even for children up to the age of 12 and beyond.
For babies and young children, the expectation and habit of books at bedtime helps them (and their parents) wind down and relax, offering greater feelings of security and a ready way to learn about boundaries (“Two stories, two poems, then sleep”). This lovely routine helps them to start to learn about and manage their relationships, expectations and feelings.
3. Surround yourself with stories and poems
- Come and see our beautiful young people’s library at SPL. It’s a wonderful place to spend sunny (or even rainy) afternoons snuggled up in a beanbag with some of the best traditional and new poetry and storybooks for all ages. Come with friends and their children, or the whole family.
- Join your nearest library to access the widest range of quality children’s books, and advice about choosing them. Let children make their own selections too.
- Books are cheaper in charity shops and at school fairs. Make it a habit to have a quick browse in passing and get your poems for pennies.
- The Scottish Book Trust run the Bookbug programme, with free books and active Bookbug library sessions for babies and toddlers. www.scottishbooktrust.com/babies-early-years
4. You don’t have to go for an Oscar – but go for it all the same!
Children enjoy and respond best to strong rhythms, expressive voices, gestures, funny faces, sound effects, touch - so give it your all. Read slowly, play up rhyme and rhythm, and make page-turning part of the drama with what-happens-next questions and guessing games. Point to things with baby’s finger as well as your own. Don’t be afraid to repeat sections they like (again and again....). Let a favourite cuddly toy ‘read’ or ‘ask questions’ about the story.
If you’re not a confident reader, don’t worry - make up your own stories about the pictures. The most important thing is to enjoy yourselves.
Note: Story and poem CDs are great but they don’t do the same job. Do make it a live performance – it’s YOU that counts - and snuggling up in the lamplight together with words and pictures.
Poetry Books for Starters
It’s difficult to set a specific age-suitability for books when some babies as young as six months respond to and enjoy books aimed at 3-5s, and other children often develop early favouritesthat they want to read and have read to them right up to age 10 and beyond. Experiment with choices; if certain books don’t work, put them aside till later. Here are a few of our favourites...
for Babies, Mums, Dads, Grannies...
Sleepy Baby by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins
Pastelly pictures, pretty rhymes. They’ll never tire of the peek-a-boo mirror at the end!
Daddy’s Lullaby by Tony Bradman
Pure poetry of illustration! One to melt dad’s heart!
Mrs Moon: Lullabies for Bedtime by Clare Beaton
Some traditional, some less well-known lullabies. Why not make up your own tunes?
The Katie Series: Katie’s Coo, Katie’s Zoo, Katie’s Ferm, Katie’s Beasties, Katie’s Moose by James Robertson/Matthew Fitt/Karen Sutherland.
Rhymes in Scots. Bold, bright and beautiful.
Each Peach Pear Plum and Peepo! by Janet & Alan Ahlberg
Old family favourites. Nursery rhyme characters play hide and seek in the pages of Each Peach whilst we meet and get to know a family through the eyes of the baby in Peepo!. A durable read: by age 5-7, Peepo’s 2nd World War context becomes a Home Front history lesson!
Row Your Boat by Lisa Bruce & Robin Bell Corfield
The old favourite with beautiful watercolour illustrations
Pre-school – P2
Night Monkey, Day Monkey by Julia Donadson/Lucy Richards
Night Monkey and Day Monkey’s worlds are as different as . . . night and day! But they learn to be the best of friends. Charms and helps deal with night-time fears.
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae/Guy Parker-Rees
The other animals laugh at Gerald – until he finds his very own groove. Bright, bouncy and uplifting.
Twinkle Twinkle Chocolate Bar by John Foster
A charming and delicious sweetie-jar of brightly-illustrated poems
Some Great Anthologies for Primary Children and the Whole family
The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry edited by Brian Patten
The Magic Box edited by Kit Wright
Umpteen Pockets edited by Adrian Mitchell
Read Me and Laugh edited by Gaby Morgan
The Magic Box edited by Kit Wright