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.