Reading is a fundamental skill that most children can develop. There are of course a very few children who do not learn to recognise words, but you can give your children an enthusiasm for language and a motivation to learn how to read. If children see that you enjoy reading, they are more likely to read too. If children see that you read recipes or television schedules or look things up, they will want to learn what mum and dad can do.
From Birth and even Before: All babies love the sound of voices, they love the rhythm, they love the intonation, particularly the sound of their parents’ voices. They are born recognising the voices of those people who are physically closest, usually their Mother and Father, and remembering tunes they have heard in the womb. The Mum who always rested while watching a particular TV programme, will find that the baby will relax and soothe when the tune is played again. Talk to your baby before he is born, tell him what’s happening, sing nursery rhymes – and talk to him from birth. He won’t answer much but he’s getting used to the sound of words, the phrasing, the tune and intonation of it all. And remember, your baby might be the only person in the world who thinks you sing like an angel. In the first few months, your baby is learning to look at faces and listen to voices. He will watch your mouth and try to copy some of your expressions, he will, from four months, try to imitate the sounds you make, and cough back if you cough at him. Have books there as part of the toy collection. Keep singing. These first books should be all or mostly pictures, not too heavy, and made of something he can safely chew. Rag books and board books can put up with all sorts of rough treatment. He will love pictures of people or faces.
6 months old and sitting on your lap, hold a book in front of you both and show him pictures, show him how to turn pages. When he can sit alone, you can sometimes put a book in front of him and turn the pages, you can point to things to show him. If he reaches for a book, help him to open it properly. When you are singing together, show him pictures of the nursery rhymes.
12 months: he will be used to books and will be ready for pictures that you can label: Mummy, Daddy, Baby, Dog, Elephant, Fish. He might be able to copy if you make animal noises to go with the pictures: what does the lion say? Or maybe not. Some children don’t like to copy noises. And then it’s time to start with story books. These books have lots of pictures, not many words and a very simple story. This is the beginning of reading stories again and again and again. Small children especially like stories about animals and children, especially those which describe ordinary things the toddlers can relate to. By the time your child is 18 months, you will be able to say some of those stories in your sleep. Your child will want you to read them again and again, and again. And again. And now, your baby can fill in the gaps if you miss out a word. These stories seem to confirm aspects of the child’s life; there is a lot of repetition of actions and words.
24 months: your child can turn over the pages for himself. He probably enjoys ‘reading’ to dolls or pets [actually making it up]. If you miss a word out when you are reading, he will correct you. He will still have his favourite books that you might find a bit boring after a while.
By 30 months, your child is really enjoying those books which talk about real life, going to the park, doing shopping, going to visit the doctors; he can also enjoy slightly more adventurous books about pirates or silly monsters. He is likely to enjoy these a whole lot more if he is sitting on your lap and held tight – being brave is much easier when he feels safe. He will choose his own books, and you will still be reading them several times together. There is a great comfort in familiarity. If you start like this, your child will learn that books are wonderful, and reading is great. It brings you close, you share an experience, cuddles and fun. And you learn things. You will learn all sorts of things from and about your child, just as he is learning stuff from you. This is the child who still believes that his Mum or Dad is the cleverest person in the whole world. If you tell him or her that fairies exist, then that’s true, and if you believe in Unicorns, so will he or she.
36 months From now on, your child will enjoy books that involve counting – count together. Ask questions, laugh at the jokes, look at colours, show which is big and which is small, talk about spiders and tigers and princesses. Ask your child to guess what happens next. Read the stories to him, encourage him to talk about the pictures, take turns to read a bit of the story to each other. Pause before key words and see if he can fill in the gap. Some children are recognising words at this stage, perhaps some can even read. Reading to small children is not about teaching your child to read. It’s about enjoying time together and teaching your child that words carry information and fun. If you can give your child enjoyment and pleasure in the written word, you have given him or her the motivation to read – and the written world their oyster!