Parents are a key role model for their children and their influence is a great way to encourage reading in early years. Finding time to spend enjoying books and stories is important because there are plenty of natural benefits to reading.
My daughter is five years old and her love of books, stories and writing is something we can both share together. It’s ironic really since I don’t tend to find too much time to read my own books but reading with my daughter is a joy that I look forward to every day. And it’s only now that I realise the true benefits of reading throughout the early years.
Reading develops a child’s imagination
I enjoyed watching The Tiger Who Came to Tea over the Christmas break – a new addition to our library of books. We also re-watched We're Going on a Bear Hunt and The Snowman, definite Christmas favourites of ours over the years.
As we read our brain translates the descriptions we read about characters, places and things into pictures – imagining the surroundings of the character and how they are feeling. Young children then bring this knowledge into their everyday play. With our imaginations, my daughter and I can now go on bear hunts and Gruffalo trails in our nearby forests and even have a tiger round for afternoon tea!
Reading provides an opportunity to spend time together
Learning how to read and write is a skill that a child develops over time. Being a working mum has probably helped develop a routine for both of us, but even though my daughter has attended nursery and had the opportunity to develop and learn through the learning goals of the early years framework, as a mum I still wanted to be involved.
I now always include reading in our routine, most often before bedtime so we can enjoy a bedtime story of one of my daughter’s favourite books. We also enjoy visiting the library as a fun adventure on rainy days!
Reading improves concentration
Reading is a great method to use from a young age to avoid tantrums or panic. On outings from an early age, I would always take some picture books for my daughter. They bring a sense of calm and focus and help to distract when necessary.
To be fully immersed in a book requires full concentration, doing this from a young age with picture books and other stories is a great way to practice the skill. Regularly sitting still and quietly to focus on a story can help developing the skill to concentrate for longer periods of time in future.
Reading improves writing skills
Writing skills develop hand in hand with reading. Not only does it provide a learning gateway into the structure of sentences but it’s an easy way for young children to learn new words.
Once my daughter started to recognise words and letters through picture books and activities, she wanted to start writing her own name on her paintings. As she continues to read, she is developing the skills to structure sentences, to use different words and becoming a better communicator.
Reading develops better storytelling
Reading exposes children to emotive language and helps them make connections to their own experiences. As young children begin to understand stories and characters, they can also understand and associate more feelings towards them.
This will become apparent when they tell their own stories. Storytelling with a child is a perfect time for reflection, engagement and connection. My daughter and I often talk about what she’s done in her class that day. It’s so nice to hear about what she has learnt in her own words and reassuring to see her smiling through her storytelling.
Reading helps a child to develop empathy
Often early years books address themes and morals that can be hard to explain as a parent. Reading books that help develop an understanding of the world, relationships, and the difference between right and wrong is made easier if children can relate to a story that they have read.
A child can be easily transported into a story and begin to understand other characters and situations. This has proved to help my daughter with building relationships with other children and how they play together in groups.
Reading can teach parents new skills
For me, reading has also taught the social skills we both need to help resolve difficult situations. There’s too much resistance when you tell a child, ‘No you can’t do that’ without any justification or reason behind your decision, but if you can relate this kind of predicaments to a story that you’ve read it makes your argument easier to understand and accept.
One day our little ones will be reading famous books and novels, enjoying the likes of Pride and Prejudice, Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird and even Harry Potter!
This is why it is essential to nurture a child’s love of reading from a young age as well as support the benefits that reading can have on early years development. There is lots of support from nurseries and schools to help advise parents on the type of books to read and knowing when is where education professionals can offer their expertise. We all need a little help along the way.