Nurturing a love for books and reading is one of the most wonderful gifts we can give our children. When a child loves their books, they have access to an endless source of information and enjoyment which will last them a lifetime. We've shared our 7 top tips for growing little readers.
1. Start young.
It’s never too early to start reading to your baby. Not only will it give comfort and help them to feel close to you, but your child will start to become accustomed to the sound of language. It really doesn’t matter what you read to them as long as they can hear your voice, the gentle rhythms of the text and the sounds of the words, helping them to get used to language which will make it easier for them to pick up reading in the future. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t seem too engaged – they might not be actively listening, but they are still benefiting from the experience.
As they get a little older, introduce tactile books – touching, smelling or mouthing the pages and seeing the bright colours will help very young children explore their senses and also introduce them to the idea that books can be fun. Books for young children often contain sounds or nonsense words which your baby might mimic. If your child does make a noise respond to them – even if it makes no sense, starting to communicate like this is good practice.
2. Make it part of your routine – repetition and regularity are key!
Like most things, establishing reading as part of your child’s routine will help them to become accustomed to it and see it as part of their normal. Be consistent in reading every day, setting aside specific times so it becomes a habit. Make it something to look forward to, creating a cosy reading corner or a special chair that you sit in, removing any distractions.
That said, don’t force it. Be mindful of your child’s reaction and if they’re clearly not enjoying story-time right now, try a different activity. By forcing them to engage they will start to associate reading with a chore. Set it aside and try again another time.
Get into the habit of always having a book with you for moments when you have to wait in a queue or distract your little one while you run an errand. If you get stuck without any suitable reading material while you’re out and about, reading any writing aloud to your child will still have the same benefits – packaging at the supermarket, road signs, shop windows or menus.
3. Make a connection between reading and pleasure.
To make sure the reading habit lasts a lifetime for your little one, we need to help them associate reading with enjoyment and happiness. We want our little ones to love their books, not feel like they are forced to read! Always talk about books and reading in a fun, positive light, building a sense of excitement before you read together. When reading aloud to a child, channel your inner actor - make it as exciting as possible with actions and funny voices, encouraging your little one to join in with their own actions or sounds, and letting them turn the pages so they feel involved.
Once they are old enough to express preferences, encourage your little one to choose their own books – they will be far more likely to engage with reading and sustain the habit if they are reading things they have chosen themselves. Take your child to the library and build a sense of anticipation by discussing with them what they are going to choose. Don’t worry too much about quality or if it’s the right thing for them to be reading: as Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” You can guide them by suggesting books you think they might like and ensuring their choices are from the appropriate age group, and even by showing them how to choose their own, introducing them to reading the back cover or skim reading. If a child only wants to re-read their favourite, don’t worry – this brings them comfort and they are still enjoying all the benefits of reading.
Follow through by giving them ownership of their own books. Gift them copies of their favourites or similar titles that you think they might like, and make sure they have their own shelf where they can store their collection. Offer to buy them books as souvenirs when you go places, rather than toys or tacky keyrings, and encourage them to personalise their books with bookplates or stickers, so they develop the sense that their books are something special of their own.
If your child really struggles to engage with books, find something they love and any reading material to accompany it. It could be a newspaper report of a football match, a review of their favourite film, even a recipe if they love cooking. Explore a wide range of written materials – graphic novels, poetry, science or nature books – chances are they just haven’t found what strikes a chord with them yet.
4. Book talk!
Reading aloud to a child is key to getting them used to the idea of stories and language from an early age, but we can’t overstate the importance of also talking to your little one about what you are reading together. As you read, ask questions about what they think is happening, what they can see on the page and what they think is going to happen next. Allow your child to interrupt the story if they want to with questions or comments. Continue the conversation after the story is finished – sharing thoughts, ideas and feelings about what we have read and experienced will not only strengthen the relationship between parent and child but will also help your child to connect more deeply with the book and consider what they have experienced in more detail. You could ask them what they enjoyed most or which character they felt most connected to.
Even when they are old enough to read to themselves, nurture this habit of talking about what they have read and sharing their experiences. Share your own favourite books and why you liked them, and seek out more opportunities to talk about your child’s favourite books - watching the film adaptation, going to a talk at the local library, or finding other books that are similar. Try to continue reading aloud to your child as long as possible, as this will fuel these conversations.
5. Be a reader to raise a reader.
The best way to teach your child something is for them to see you doing it, and not only doing it but enjoying it! If you don’t make time in your own life to read, try to reinstate it as a habit for the sake of your little one, and not just on your devices! Make sure your own reading is visible – if you usually only read before going to sleep, try to read in the living room or kitchen while your child plays or even read alongside them as they look at their own books. Advertise to your child that you enjoy reading and do it regularly, which will support them to adopt reading as an ‘approved’ habit. Leave the books, magazines or newspapers you are reading in sight so that they get used to you always having something to read at hand and start to do the same.
6. Surround them with things to read.
We can’t all have homes filled with endless shelves of books, but it’s important to make reading material easily accessible to your child. Try to make sure there are plenty of age appropriate books for your child at home where they can reach them and help themselves. Visit the library regularly and borrow as many and as wide a range of books as you can, leaving them around the house where your little one can pick them up. The more familiar books feel to them, the more likely they are to return to them again and again.
7. Encourage variety.
While it’s important to let slightly older children guide their own reading journeys, for younger children try to vary the books that you read to your child as far as possible. Choose a wide range of topics, even if your child has no context for them – art, travel, science, all will introduce them to different types of language, open their eyes to new ideas and stretch their imaginations, showing them all the many possibilities of the world around them. Older children will naturally gravitate towards books that they can relate to, often to a protagonist that resembles them in gender or experience, but before they reach this stage try to expose your little one to as much diversity as you can. We can prepare our children for the diversity of our communities and the wider world by exposing them to a wide variety of cultures, families, concepts and experiences in their reading, helping them to accept and celebrate difference when they encounter it in reality.
If you speak more than one language, read or tell stories to your child in whatever language you feel comfortable with – this might differ from day to day! There are some wonderful children’s books that incorporate more than one language, and children that have been exposed to multiple languages often develop a greater understanding of different sounds and how they fit together.