From the board books of babyhood, children are learning something new. They may focus on the pictures, or the colours, numbers or letters, or they may be listening to the sounds of words as you read the story.
Books can represent stories, pictures, colour, pattern, shape and feel.
Reading helps a young child to learn how to hold a book and turn the pages. They learn that books are read from front to back, and pages are read from top to bottom, and from left to right. Children also begin to recognise illustrations, people, animals or toys, and that some pictures are of real objects and things they are familiar with.
Constantly being read to helps children to develop speech and listening skills. Children begin to think about how words sound, and as children develop and progress into picture books, they begin to recognise small words and phrases. Picture books also offer examples of problem solving and reasoning.
Reading to your child creates a desire in them to want to read. Literacy development in young children begins long before they start school. A child’s preschool years are the ideal time for parents and carers to introduce the enjoyment of books and the experience of one-on-one bonding time that reading together offers.
Reading to your child helps promote:
- language and speech development
- vocabulary and pronunciation
- knowledge and understanding of the world
- problem solving and reasoning
- exposure to new words and new ideas
- attention span and listening skills
- imagination and creative development
- gross and fine motor skills
- bonding time between you and your child
- reading as part of a child’s daily routine.
Choosing age-appropriate books
From the moment you open a book for a young child, you will be able to gauge their interest. If a book is beyond their stage of development, the child will most probably lose interest fairly quickly (usually before you’ve even got to the end of the story).
On the other hand, when a child relates well to a book, be prepared to read it many times. Children love to hear their favourite story.
The following age groups are a guide as to what children enjoy and understand in books. However, don’t rely on age to choose suitable books as a child’s developmental level is a better predictor of what they might enjoy.
Babies and toddlers (0-2 years): Board and cloth books are great for a baby to ‘explore’. Cloth books and board books have washable covers and easy to turn pages, as well as being sturdy enough to resist a baby’s teeth marks and mouthing, or the food stains and less than careful handling of a toddler.
Books that introduce babies and toddlers to the names of things, and books with simple images and pictures, bright colours, texture, minimal or rhyming text, are also very appropriate. Books where children can lift a flap (e.g Where’s Spot?) also help a child to develop dexterity and promote fine motor skills. Some books for this age group have buttons that children can activate that mimic the sound of a duck or a cow and others play music.
Toddlers (2-3 years): Children this age like stories that depict everyday events that they can relate to. Look for books with simple stories that are not too long (e.g The Very Hungry Caterpillar) or books with repetitive text, bright colours and images.
Text is not essential for this age group, as children can use their imagination to create a story for themselves.
Look for counting, numbers or letters of the alphabet books, or books with names for objects and simple words. Learning books featuring characters from television or DVDs (e.g The Wiggles) can also be popular with this age group.
Preschoolers (3-5 years): For this age group, picture books are ideal. Many picture books have repetitive phrases and predictable text or plots (e.g We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) that encourage children to read along.
Look for books that are relevant to the everyday life of a child this age, so that a child has the opportunity to relate to the story and develop understanding and confidence.
Three to five year olds also enjoy fairy stories and factual books about the world in general, particularly the natural world. Many children in this age group are also able to handle more text and fewer pictures, as they are developing skills in both listening and paying attention. Some children may still prefer to play with a toy while they listen.
Picture books offer opportunities to talk about the story in terms of how and why the characters behaved as they did, what were the consequences of their actions, and explore ‘what if’ and alternative endings.
Making use of the local library
Putting together a home library of picture books can be expensive. Joining a local library means that you can keep a constant supply of books for your child without having to purchase them, and a children’s librarian will be able to help you make developmentally appropriate selections.
Many libraries also conduct regular activities, including storytelling and reading sessions for young children.
Familiarising a child at a young age to use a library confidently also helps them to independently source books and other reference material as they progress through their formal education years.