IN the winter months, few things rival the joys of finding a warm place and the company of a good book.
But in this age of numerous screens and thrilling electronic activities, how do you get your child in to the habit of reading the printed page?
We know that reading has many benefits. People who read regularly tend to have better general knowledge and better empathy because they are immersed in different places and experiences via different points of view.
Reading also is a wonderful de-stressor – an ideal response to a tricky day is to grab an interesting book and take your mind off your concerns.
Reading to your child has more benefits than just signalling it’s time for bed. Children who are read to usually have a better vocabulary as they are exposed to more unfamiliar words which can be explained to them and used in context.
They have a better concept of storytelling and narrative structure because they are familiar with the nature of stories and learn how to tell a good tale.
Reading also improves their concentration skills, as they have to ignore other sounds and competing activities to focus on the page.
Reading fiction gives children a better understanding of emotions, particularly if enhanced by a parent’s questions about what a character might be feeling or why the protagonist performed a particular action.
Many parents use stories that better explain a situation that a child finds themselves in, and there are many children’s books about potentially tricky experiences such as having a new sibling enter the house or losing a pet.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to involve your child in more reading is to read them stories at night.
This ritual gives you special time together and encourages your child to calm down to get to sleep more easily.
Because of the benefits of this activity, never make it dependent on their appropriate behaviour, and use other methods, such as “time out”, rather than no book at bedtime.
The opportunity to reconnect with the shared pleasure of reading together is particularly important when relationships might be a bit strained.
To be even more involved in reading with them, choose some of your favourite books from your childhood.
Now is the time to revisit Harry the Dirty Dog or Christopher Robin and share the joy of some of your favourite characters with them.
Don’t stop reading to them when they can read. Research from Murdoch University showed that more than one third of Australian kids aged between six to 11 wanted their parents to continue to read to them, even if they could read themselves.
At these ages you can pull out the big tomes – reading through all of the Treehouse or Harry Potter books with them.
This is helpful to stay connected in ages when they might be pulling away a little from you as they become more independent.
Even when they get to the teen years, you can still make reading a shared activity that enhances family relationships.
Why not instigate a regular reading hour or two every weekend, where you grab a few blankets and cushions and the whole family heads to your garden or a local park and read books, comics or newspapers in each other’s company. You’ll also be able to ask each other about what you are reading.
Who knows – you might even be inclined to get into some of their books – ostensibly targeted to teen readers, but often enjoyed by adults?
The company of books in the company of each other. What could be better?
TAKEAWAY FOR PARENTS
● Don’t read in a rote fashion. Use different voices and sound interesting and interested.
● Rhyming books are particularly good to get the singsong going in your voice.
● Ask questions about the book – how many pigs they can see, where the swan is, what else they can see in the illustration. Or ask what they think is going to happen next or who their favourite character is so far.
● Allow the book to echo into their lives – ask your child the next morning what they remember or pretend to be the characters and re-enact a live version of the story with your child. You’ll easily find good times to go on a bear hunt or speculate what the wombat might be doing now.
Send your questions to Dr Judith at email@example.com