I’ve decided that this month we’ll celebrate Booktober. Nothing too out of the ordinary around our house. Just a bit more of the usual hooray for books.
Specifically though, every Sunday I’ll have a list of seven of our favourite books with a particular theme. This will mean that we’ll end up with slightly more than a book a day for a month. If you want to start reading more with your little people, or are looking for new books to explore with your little readers, you’ll hopefully be able to find some inspiration in there somewhere. Or you could just take the whole list to the library and set the challenge of reading at least a book a day every day for a month.
Tomorrow we’ll kick off with our top 7 dinosaur books. It was always going to be dinosaurs. We’re a bit dino-crazy. If anyone has suggestions for other possible lists, please let me know.
Before we get underway with the books, I thought I’d re-share my post about why you should read to little children. It can usually be found over in our Reading Corner, along with an ever growing list of reviews of our favourite books.
Why you should read to little children
Lots of parenting advice that I have come across online, and even in published books, seems to be based on personal experience or anecdotal evidence. Never sing your child to sleep because my cousin’s friend’s mum sang him to sleep when he was a baby and now he’s 45 and she still needs to go around to his house every night to sing his bedtime lullaby. You don’t need to breastfeed your baby because my boss was only ever bottlefed and now she speaks six languages, is an Olympic athlete, runs a company with a multi-billion dollar turnover, and is just the nicest darn person you’ll ever meet.
That sort of thing.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this sort of sharing and learning. No doubt it has been pivotal for countless generations. The problem with this in our information age is that the wisdom is not just passed to us from those who know us best. Anyone who has ever had a child, or known a child, or been a child, seems to be able to call themselves a “parenting expert”. There are so many parenting experts and they are all shouting for attention, with confusingly different opinions on what is best.
Well, I’m definitely not a parenting expert. On a scale of expert to whatever the opposite of expert is, I’m definitely closer to the latter end. But I’m big on evidence-based policy. If a government is going to devote a lot of time and money to a particular issue, I want them to be basing those decisions on the results of rigorous research. Similarly, if I’m going to use a significant portion of the time that I get to spend with my babies while they’re small in a particular way, I want to make sure that the evidence supports that decision. I’m not going to spend everyday reading and re-reading picture books if there are better things I could be doing with my time.
So, I’ve read through some of the peer-reviewed research. I don’t claim this to be anywhere near an exhaustive review of the literature on this topic, but I did discover some good pointers so I’ll give you a bit of a summary. (Reading the whole articles was really interesting – I’ve listed the sources at the end in case you want to have a look at them!)
There was broad agreement in the literature that reading to babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers is really important for a massive range of skills and attributes beyond language and literacy, to areas like problem solving, relationships, and social confidence. There is this from Murray and Egan:
Reading to young children has long been recognized as an important precursor to language and literacy development. It encourages vocabulary development, positive attitudes to reading as well as strengthening emotional ties between the child and parent. Reading to pre-school-age children can make starting school easier for them as well as providing a head start in literacy… Reading to young children also helps them to develop social skills such as listening and interacting with an adult. Pp.303-304
As well as this from Nyhout and O’Neill:
Exposure to rich narratives at an early age may be important for a range of different abilities, such as children’s later ability to build rich accounts of past events and their information recall, social functioning, and broader linguistic and cognitive abilities. p.128
However, an important part of what I discovered was that the key was not that children were read to, or rather read at, but that they were allowed and encouraged to be active participants, even when they were not yet able to speak. For example, Makin wrote:
There is a danger that parents and early childhood educators may accept the importance of reading to children but do so in ways that may have less than optimal results… If children are physically restrained or forced to remain on an adult’s lap for the time the adult deems appropriate, the experience is unlikely to be positive despite the physical closeness. p.275
Here’s a quick snapshot:
- Books with no words are great
- When a book has words, steering away from the text is great
- Ask questions, point things out, relate stuff back to your child’s own life
- If your little person is really not interested in reading right this second, don’t force the issue
- Try to find books and reading styles that make the experience enjoyable for both of you
- Start as early as possible in your child’s life and read often
Reading to my babies is one of the best parts of my day every day. I hope that by sharing the books we love, I can share that joy around. Happy reading!
Farrant B and Zubrick S (2013) Parent-Child Book Reading Across Early Childhood and Child Vocabulary in the Early School Years: Findings From the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children First Language 33(3) 280-293.
Fletcher K and Holmes W (2015) The Role of Book Familiarity and Book Type on Mothers’ Reading Strategies and Toddlers’ Responsiveness. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 15(1): 73-96.
Makin L (2007) Literacy 8-12 Months: What Are Babies Learning? Early Years: An International Research Journal 26(3) 267-277.
Murray A and Egan S (2014) Does Reading to Infants Benefit Their Cognitive Development at 9-Months-Old? An Investigation Using a Large Birth Cohort Survey Child Language Teaching and Therapy 30(3) 303-315.
Nyhout A and O’Neill D (2013) Mothers’ Complex Talk When Sharing Books With Their Toddlers: Book Genre Matters First Language 33(2) 115-131.
Reese E, Sparks A and Leyva D (2010) A Review of Parent Interventions for Preschool Children’s Language and Emergent Literacy Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 10(1) 97-117.