There is an abundance of research demonstrating the importance of reading to children from a very young age. They learn about the structure of books, it increases their vocabulary and exposes them to concepts and ideas that they might not encounter in their daily life. However, just be aware that although it is important to read to your child, this is completely different to your child learning to read.
There is a huge number of children’s books on the market and choosing an appropriate book for your child can be a daunting exercise. Below are some guidelines for choosing books for children of different ages.
New born babies respond to voices and noises, and can even make fine-grained distinctions between a wide variety of speech sounds and patterns. Although the new born baby’s vision is hazy, they already prefer complex patterns to plain colours. By 2 months they can discriminate colours across the whole spectrum and by 3 months they can see as well as adults. At 2 months of age, babies can imitate facial expressions and gestures, and show some anticipation of events.
Therefore, although very young babies may have no understanding of a ‘book’ or comprehend a story, they will enjoy focusing on bright pictures and listening to the different expressions in your voice. So at this age, any reading material is appropriate – a children’s book, a magazine or the novel that you are currently reading. It is the rhythm of your language along with your changing intonation and facial expressions that is important, plus the anticipation of being read to is associated with being held.
Between 4 to 6 months babies will show more interest in the actual book. Their eye sight is now quite well developed and they can identify objects by shape, colour and texture. They are able to reach, touch and grab and can organise sounds into elaborate patterns. For this age, choose sturdy books that they can help to hold with bright coloured pictures of common objects and repetitive or rhyming text. Books which contain mirrors or different textures to touch are also great for this age, as are books which make sounds.
Babies aged between 6 and 12 months are able to engage in vocal exchanges with others and their babbling begins to resemble the sound patterns and intonation of the parents’ language. They can categorise many objects by appearance and function and make their intentions known. In addition, to rhyming and repetitive text books, introduce your child to books which include simple stories about daily routines. Link the activities in the book to the child’s life.
Many children start walking between 12 and 18 months. They are beginning to accurately produce a range of words and can easily express their thoughts and feelings. They are able to maintain focus for extended periods of time and you see rapid development in their thinking and problem solving skills. This is a great time to introduce lift the flap books and pop-up books into your collection. Children of this age also like to look at photo albums. At this stage children may find it difficult to sit still and listen to a book, so be prepared to add some action into the story telling (except before sleep time). This may include jiggling the child up and down on your knee as you talk about the horse galloping, rocking the child while reading a nursery rhyme, or holding the child’s hands while you pretend to drive the car in the story.
By 18 months, your collection should include a wide range of genres – factual books (animals, hospital, jobs, machines), poems, traditional children’s stories (Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Three Little Pigs), alphabet books, longer rhyming books (such as the Dr Seuss Books), and books which cover topics outside the child’s normal day-to-day experiences.
Around 3 years of age onwards, you can help your child to make his/her own books. Initially, these books may just consist of pictures cut from magazines or advertising brochures. However, as the child’s language skills improve this could progress to the child dictating a story which you type. The story can be printed off in a book-type format which the child then illustrates.
By 4 years of age you should also be reading small chapter books (that do not have pictures) to your child. Listening to chapter books being read helps develop the ability to sit and listen for extended periods of time (an important classroom skill). It also helps stimulate children’s imaginations as it is necessary to form their own images of the characters and scenes rather than relying on an illustrator’s interpretation of the events. In fact, you should continue reading to your primary school child as it exposes them to language outside their current reading level as well as emphasising the importance of reading.
Four year olds should also be using books as a source of information. For example, help your child make a cake from a children’s cooking book or follow the instructions in a craft book to make a boat.
Finally, remember to model reading behaviour. Reading for pleasure shows your child that you also enjoy and value reading.