Introducing your children to books

You can never start reading too early to your child - even when she is a baby you can read to her.

You can never start reading to your child too early. Even little touch-and-feel books with one word per page, count as reading. My youngest daughter, Grace, who is now eight years old, had her own library card when she was just six months old.  She moved from reading tactile books, to Roger Hargreaves’ Mister Men series, and the famous The very hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle. These were followed by Beatrix Potter books, which surrounded us with Flopsy Bunnies and a “very bad rabbit” indeed. Then she got lost in Richard Scarry’s, Busy, busy town and next we were entranced by the rhyming adventures Dr Seuss dreamed up. If you don’t enjoy reading books like The Cat in the Hat, The Sneetches, Horton hears a Who and Green eggs and ham, well, then I will eat my hat.

Have I left it too late?

Don’t be concerned if your child is a bit older and you haven’t managed to squeeze in reading time. I managed to lure my book-wary son, James, into loving words by exposing him to more interactive material. Try introducing books like the I Spy series by Wick and Marzollo to your child. Hundreds of small items are hidden on the pages. Just try to find: “a frog, a dolphin, a horn, a cake with a B, a fiddle, some corn” books.  Older children might also be drawn to more educational books like Do not open by John Farndon that explores the facts behind mysteries. He was especially taken with a section on interpreting body language. He thought he’d be able to outsmart me by manipulating his body language when telling lies!

Why reading is important?
According to Entertaining and educating young children, studies have proven that it’s important for children to get used to looking at books as often as possible and to have “book time”. Reading also develops their language, life skills and general knowledge. It also cuts down on the amount of time your child spends watching TV. Most importantly, books will transport your children to the unknown, offering them a variety of unforgettable experiences, loveable characters and libraries of knowledge and information.

How to read?
When your children are young, read aloud to them, and let your child handle the book. Encourage them to turn pages or spot things in the pictures and ask them questions about the story line or characters. Let them explore each page. Children enjoy the pictures just as much as the actual story. If you’re worried about damaging library books, buy some second hand books that your child can touch and explore to their heart’s content, without you needing to worry. Story time is meant to be relaxing, where your child gets undivided attention. If you can’t have separate reading time with your children, let them take turns to choose which story to read. Always try to make story time fun and interactive.

Where and when to read?

The most obvious story time is at bedtime; a quiet treat to settle kids before they sleep. It’s a lovely ritual that can become part of your routine. Just be forewarned; some nights you’ll be exhausted and your child will threaten mutiny if you try to wriggle out of story time. Books travel easily and can be enjoyed anywhere and at any time. I love cuddling on a couch in a sunny spot in winter with a pile of books surrounding me and the children. In summer, we often sprawl on a blanket under a shady tree with a favourite like The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. They squeal with delight as the mother bunny keeps outsmarting the little bunny in his yearning to hide away from her.
If you don’t have the time to read, or are travelling long distances with children in the car, you can try out a story CD or two. I still have wonderful memories of lying in front of our old record player listening to the Adventures of Noddy and Big Ears. If you can’t afford CDs, join your local Listener’s Library or swop between friends.  A recent dreary trip through the Karoo was made highly entertaining by John van der Ruit and his book, Spud, although be warned, Spud is aimed at teenagers and not tots. This trip created a special memory for me and my children that cemented a love for books. My son immediately bought the next Spud book and devoured it. He later went to see the movie and proudly declared, “The book was better.”

By Santa Buchanan

What to read to your child

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