Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Reading is important too:

I was asked recently by Milton Bayer (Creative PR & Marketing Specialists) to pull together the research into the importance of reading for their staff who had been asked to enter a bid for the re-brand and re-launch of Book Start.

I think books are a great way of interacting with children, hence my interest in the topic so following my in-put, they had the bears looking at each other while holding the book. Unfortunately they were pipped at the post by someone else (I hope it wasn't my ideas that did it!) but the findings are interesting so I thought Id share them:


There have been many, many research studies on the influence reading to children has on their educational growth, and in almost all of the studies done, reading to children as early as six months of age has been ‘proven not only as a good parent-child bonding, but as giving the child a good educational start in life’ (Maria-Helen Goyetche, owner of Early Childhood Education, 2009). The following is a summary of the available research & results of interviews with several early years’ practitioners:

General points:
1. Babies: There’s no such thing as too early. It’s good to start showing babies pictures and talking about them as soon as they focus her eyes on the pattern on a jumper or the change-mat. It’s part of parent –child interaction. Sue Gerhardt, discusses the major adverse implications on the developing brain if not there is not this type of quality interaction, (‘Why love matters’, 2004) *

2. Toddlers: discovering new words, learning to "read" pictures to find the meanings of words or the answers to questions hiding behind those thrilling pull-tabs: where's the kitten gone?

3. Pre-schoolers: a realisation that pictures on the page are the introduction to print; being read to helps the child toward written language at this age just as it helps towards spoken language two years previously.

4. School-Aged: Once children are used to being read to, they will never be bored if somebody will read, and since there are bound to be times when nobody will read and they are bored, they'll have the best possible reason to learn to read themselves.

All the research agrees that reading to themselves isn't a signal to stop reading to them though, even when the child starts to read stories to himself for pleasure.

1. Bonding
Maybe the most important benefit a parent and child have from reading together is a bond which naturally develops as they spend time together. They are connecting with the baby while the baby is doing the things she likes best; being with you and hearing your voice speaking to her. ‘The book isn’t as important as the moment and........ it could even be a comic,’ Lesley Smith, Early Years Practitioner.

2. Attention/listening:
Attention skills are extremely important and need to be learnt to be successful in school. Attention and listening are the main skills in decline in the 21st century. A recent survey of 100 primary schools hi-lighted this (Libby Hill, 2010). By sharing a story book early on, it is helping to develop both attention span and listening.

3. Social interaction
Perhaps the most important benefit is the time the adult spends reading with the child. ‘The book is the vehicle for the interaction, which is the most important thing,’ Deborah Falshaw, Teacher & Early Years Practitioner.

4. Communication
Many of the components of communication are developed whilst sharing a book: turn-taking, listening, shared attention and speaker/listener roles are identified

5. Language
Hearing the adult use different intonation patterns and the full range of phonology of the language they’re speaking helps develop the child’s own speech and language.

a) Vocabulary: linking the names of words to the pictures helps vocabulary development. It’s often easier to find pictures than real objects to show the child. In any event, the pictures supplement the child’s semantic links to aid the acquisition of new vocabulary.

b) Reasoning: Following a character's actions in a story helps develop problem solving skills. Children are just learning about the world they live in. They are beginning to learn that their actions have consequences. Story book characters can help test these sometimes confusing issues without the pain of going through it themselves. The next time a child is confronted by a situation he has encountered in a story that has been read to him, he will know he has options.

6. Intelligence/Imagination
Getting children absorbed in books helps stimulate imagination which has been proved to advance their thinking power. They learn to pretend and put themselves in the story which often promotes a higher level of thinking. Children who are read to at an early age find it easier to express themselves and their feelings, making them more confident as they grow up (Professor James Law, City University, own conference notes 2009).

7. Emotional development
Children’s emotions can be validated through story reading. Sharing stories about characters who have the same emotions, especially negative ones, lets the child know that the feelings are normal. Children can learn from the reactions of the characters in the story (Susan Anderson, ‘The invaluable importance of reading to your child’).

8. Good habits
Children will pass on the love of reading to their children if they have been read to. Children live what they learn. They will be more likely to share reading with their own children.

9. Introducing difficult topics
Sharing stores about controversial topics is a good way to introduce discussion. Topics from sex education to drug issues can be difficult to discuss without a book as springboard.

10. Helping to handle stress
Life can be tough for a child in the 21st century. Books provide escapism as well as a source of comfort.


Maryann Wolf Director/professor of the Centre for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, USA "Children who begin kindergarten having heard and used thousands of words, whose meanings are already understood, classified, and stored away in their young brains, have the advantage on the playing field of education. Children who never have a story read to them, who never hear words that rhyme, who never imagine fighting with dragons or marrying a prince, have the odds overwhelmingly against them."

Penelope Leach, child development guru: ‘When parents read aloud to their children, everyone wins. It's fun for the adult and great for the kids. Easy for you and good for them. You don't even have to ration it because, unlike TV or ice cream, there's no such thing as too much’.

* Crap title but great book.

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