Learning to read: why are books and stories important?

Reading with your child gives them a love of stories and books that will stay with them for life.

Children reading a book with an adult

Introduction

It’s never too early to start reading to your child – even young babies enjoy being read to! Reading aloud prepares your baby’s brain for language. It teaches them about words and sentence formation, and introduces them to concepts like stories, colours, letters and numbers.

Inspiring a love of books is one of the best ways to prepare children for a lifetime of learning and enjoyment through reading. It will bring huge benefits at school and beyond, because being read to early on helps children to understand language, making it easier for them to learn to read themselves later on.

Once your child starts primary school they will be learning to read for themselves, but it’s still important that you enjoy books and reading stories together as a family. Your child will learn their letters and sounds at school, but reading together at home will really inspire them to enjoy and value reading and all the benefits it brings.

How to get the most out of storytime

Making story time part of your daily routine is a great way to make sure that books and reading are a familiar and fun experience for your child. Get them to choose a book (or two) to read with you on the sofa or in bed at the end of each day. Encourage them to tell you why they’ve selected the book, and what they like and dislike about it. If you can, store children’s books with the covers facing outwards so that your child becomes familiar with books that they enjoy, and can choose for themselves.

A visit to the local library can be a real treat for children – with the reward of borrowing a book at the end of it. It won’t cost you a penny, and they’ll love the experience of having their very own library card (which you can also use to borrow story CDs and DVDs). Taking care of a special book (which will eventually be returned) also helps children gain a sense of responsibility.

There’s also a bedtime story read by a familiar face on CBeebies every night at 6.50pm – if your child loves a story they’ve seen on screen make a note of the title and author and see if your local library or bookshop has a copy.

Be warned – small children do enjoy the repetition and familiarity of reading the same book over and over again. This is perfectly normal, and they will move on to something else eventually!

Starting to read

Before they can read for themselves, encourage your child to ‘read’ the pictures in their books by asking simple questions about what they can see. Getting the idea that the pictures can contain ‘clues’ that will help them read the words is essential when children are learning early reading skills at school.

After you’ve read or listened to a story together, try asking your child about what happened. Retelling a story is great for developing their speaking, listening and memory skills. Asking questions about how the characters might have felt, or how they reacted also helps you child understand different points of view.

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Expert opinion

Making books a familiar and enjoyable sight at home helps children feel comfortable with their first experiences of reading at school.

Visiting your local library and understanding the 'quiet' rule will also be advantageous when experiencing 'story time' and developing listening skills in a pre-school or school environment.

Emma Loughran, Primary School Teacher

Top tips

  • Ask other parents at your playgroup, pre-school or primary for their book recommendations.Librarians are an excellent source of information on children's books and authors. They may also know of any story time sessions you can take your child along to.Watch how storytellers on CBeebies use their voices and gestures to convey stories - use some of their ideas to help develop your own storytelling 'voice'.If you aren't a natural storyteller and struggle to make the story flow, try reading books written in rhyme to give you a helping hand.

Parent's tale

When I had my daughter, we used to sit in the nursery rocking chair looking at books together.

I found it a bonding experience and she soon became used to the experience of holding and turning the pages of the book, eventually recognising that the words (and illustrations) on the page were conveying the meaning of the story.

She is now an avid book lover and progressing well in Reception class with her reading and writing skills.

Emma, Mother of two, From Cheshire

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