Reading with toddlers: why it’s essential for lifelong learning

It’s never too early to start reading with your child. The Bookstart scheme (which provides free books at three key stages before a child starts school) has shown that parents who introduce their babies to books give them a head start and advantage over their peers throughout primary school. Young babies love the warmth of your company and the sound and rhythm of your voice, long before they can understand the words. Babies can start to learn to enjoy books from birth as you show them brightly coloured pictures and name the objects or sing a rhyme about the picture.

Once your baby becomes a toddler, you’ll find that books become ever more important. Let them pick the stories they want you to read to them – often they’ll want their favourite books over and over, but this is important as they grow and learn. Link what is happening in the story to your child’s own experience: “Look, there’s a train. Do you remember we went on a train the other day – where did we go?” As your child gets older, ask them to describe what is happening in the story, to help develop their own storytelling skills.

Studies have shown, time and time again, how early encouragement of reading leads to improved language and literacy, which in turns leads to academic success and lifelong social and emotional wellbeing.

It’s a heart-wrenching statistic – over half of teachers say they have seen at least one child start school having never been read a story before. The odds are stacked against such children succeeding in life – parental encouragement of reading is the most important predictor of literacy, more so than social class, household income, family size and parental education.

Here are four tips to encourage an early love of reading

1)    Start early – from birth and make reading aloud part of every day

2)    Be a good role model.  Let children see you read to learn information (e.g. a recipe) and see you reading for pleasure. That includes Dads, too – fathers’ reading habits can have substantial influence on their children’s ability to read, their levels of interest and their reading choices.

3)    Have a wide variety of books always available to your children. Wherever possible, choose a children’s bookshelf where the books face forwards as toddlers select books by looking at their covers.

4)    Join the library and visit regularly. Encourage your child to choose what books they would like to take out.

Encouraging an early love of reading provides the best possible foundation for lifelong success and happiness. Curling up together and sharing a book is a hugely rewarding activity that creates a lasting bond and lays down precious childhood memories.


Return to work after baby: how to change careers

When looking for a new job we usually start from what we can do, or what’s available in our area. That sounds sensible, but it limits your options right from the beginning. And how can you be sure you already know all that’s available anyway? Often, opportunities only appear when you go out there and look for them!

Let’s say you’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but you have young so it’s just not practical to spend three years doing a teacher training course. You might write off teaching as a possibility and settle for a different career instead. But if you’re open to new ideas you could find a franchise to run a sign language or singing group for toddlers. That could give you everything you’re looking for but without the years of study.

So don’t start from what you could do – start from what you want to do. If you could choose any job, what would it be? Whose job do you want?

Now grab a pen and paper and write down why you want that job. What is it about that job that appeals to you? Really pull that job apart, so if you write “I want to work with people”, dig deeper until you nail down exactly what you want to be doing with those people. Do you want to care for them? Teach them? Campaign for their rights? Manage them? Help them to do something? (What?) Which people do you want to work with? Children, old people, senior managers, parents, recent graduates, technical people, nurses…Be as specific as you can.

Now you have a list of what you want it’s time to get researching. Search online for the profiles of the jobs you’d like to do and what skills and qualifications you need to get them. Ask around friends and family to see if anyone does a job similar to the ones you’d like to do. Arrange to have a chat with them and find out about their job – what do they do every day? Which parts of the job do they enjoy? Which parts are not so great? Could you see yourself doing a job like that?

If your choice of job means you’d need to spend years retraining, don’t be disheartened. True, some jobs need a university degree, but many need some relevant experience and a short course, which are much easier and faster to obtain. You can get experience by doing volunteer work, applying for a more junior job and working your way up or arranging some work experience. If you’ve spoken to someone already doing that job, ask them if their employer might allow you to work for free for a few weeks to get experience. Or phone an organisation that employs people doing your chosen job and see if they would consider giving you a placement.

You could also look through your list of what you want from your job and see if, like our aspiring teacher, you can side-step into something similar. Can’t find the job you want in your area? How about creating your own job by becoming a self-employed mum? The internet has opened up business opportunities that allow you to work from anywhere at all, so living in the most remote of locations needn’t be a barrier to finding work you enjoy. If you like the idea of being your own boss, take a look at Start a Family Friendly Business by Helen Lindop and Antonia Chitty.

Take a look at the skills you already have. Grab your notepad again and write down the tasks you’ve done both in your jobs pre-children and since you had kids. Then write down the skills or qualities that you needed to carry out these tasks. Are you a good organiser? Are you good at thinking of new ideas? Are you methodical and good with detail? Write it all down. Which of these skills would be useful in the job you’ve chosen? You may find you’ve already got more to offer than you first thought!

By now you’ll have a good idea of the job you want, what you’d bring to that job, useful contacts to help you get started in your new career, a list of your skills to put on your CV, an idea of the courses you might need to take and maybe even relevant work experience. So go get that job!

My toddler wakes up too early: how to train her to stay in bed longer

If your toddler wakes very early every morning it’s really hard on you as the parent.

The big problem here is that toddlers are too young to read clocks, so they can’t tell that it’s too early to get up.  Fortunately, there are some techniques you can try even before your toddler is old enough to tell the time:

1. Get blackout curtains. It can be hard to convince a child it’s still night if the sun is shining outside, so stretch out the night time a little longer by creating your own darkness.

2. If child is waking up because she’s thirsty or needs the toilet, give her a drink or a trip to the bathroom then encourage her back to bed by explaining it’s still night-time.

3. Set up a nightlight and a timer so that the nightlight comes on at 6am (or whatever time you choose). Then explain to your toddler that they should play or read books until the light comes on.

4. Get a Gro Clock – an alarm clock specially designed for toddler sleep training. The clock displays stars to show it’s night time and then you set it so that a sun is displayed when it’s time to get up.

5. For older toddlers with a digital alarm clock, cover all the digits except the first one with a piece of paper and explain that wake-up time is when they see the ‘6’ (or whatever time you choose!)

If the child won’t sleep, encourage her to play or read quietly in her room until it’s ‘wake-up time’.  There’s a good chance that, once your child has had a little of the sleep training above, that she will start to sleep until later.

For more tips on getting your child to sleep until later, take a look at how to stop your toddler from waking up too early.

The Terrible Twos: dealing with toddler tantrums

‘The terrible twos’ can be a stressful time for parents.  It’s not easy to understand why your toddler has a tantrum but at such a young age, a child is consumed with thoughts of themselves.  Everything is about them and how they feel.  Until they are taught how to share every toy or piece of food they see automatically belongs to them.

When your toddler has a tantrum in public,  your first thought might be that everyone is focused on you and your screaming child. Getting embarrassed won’t help the situation and of course you have many more years of embarrassing situations to look forward to courtesy of your children!  So worrying about what others think during this situation is simply going to stress you and make you feel worse.

Here are a few tips to help you cope during tantrums:

1. Ignore the tantrum.  This technique works best when at home.  In public places, you don’t want to ever leave your child unattended as a form of punishment.  Good behaviour in public begins at home.  If your child is squirming on the floor screaming for a biscuit, continue to talk to them as if you never noticed.  Eventually, they will get the hint and stop screaming.

2. Avoid rewarding bad behaviour.  In public, toddlers throw tantrums when they are denied something that they want.  Some parents give in to keep their child quiet but a child learns quickly.  Tantrums will continue if they know you will cave.  Simply say ‘no’ and keep moving.

3. Don’t get angry.  When you scream and they scream the situation is wildly out of control.  You’ll end up crying and your toddler will still be screaming.  Keep using the same calm voice you use when they are behaving to get your child to calm down as well.

4. Praise your toddler when they behave well.  Positive reinforcement is better than negative.  In the absence of positive attention a child will behave badly just to get some attention at all.  Acting out and throwing tantrums may be a cry for attention.  Don’t let it get to this point.  Clap and celebrate when they go to the potty successfully and when they put away their toys.  Good manners such as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ deserve a smile and a hand clap as well.

5. Carry snacks with you.  Low blood sugar can lead to tantrums.  If you are out longer than anticipated and lunch or dinner time is close at hand, let them eat a healthy snack to keep their hunger pains at bay and sugar levels stable.

6. Be consistent.  At home, you might use ‘time out’ to deal with a tantrum for bad behaviour.  In public do the same.  Sit your child on a bench for five minutes or take them to the car.  Eventually they will learn that you are not a pushover and they will begin to behave.

7. Make sure your toddler isn’t tired. Tiredness makes tantrums more likely to happen, so try to give your toddler a good sleep routine. If your toddler is awake very early in the morning, try a Gro Clock.

Nip temper tantrums in the bud with the above tips and you’ll find the toddler years easier to survive!