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Encouraging a lifelong love of reading …

(As published by My Family Care Vouchers - an online parenting site for users of the market leading childcare voucher scheme.)

The key to fostering a lifelong love of reading is to share books with your child from day one and to enjoy it! Even very young babies really enjoy books, and love to look at the brightly coloured pictures as they relax and listen to mummy or daddy’s voice. You can buy mini board books which attach to a buggy with a plastic clip for under 2s to ‘read’ to themselves while they are on the move. Many of the books for the very young have textured pages and flaps to lift and pull so the child can explore with their hands as well as their eyes.

Once your child is a little older then a book at bedtime can become part of the daily routine. Take turns with your child and let them pick the book every other day - even if they return to the same book again and again – we all have our favourites! Leave a selection of books in your child’s room so they can read whenever the mood takes them.

If your child finds it hard to stay sitting still for book time, then why not choose books involving lots of physical activity which they can get up and act out? The Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen, is a particular favourite for this, and children enjoy pretending to walk through the squelchy squerchy mud and the swishy swashy grass as mum or dad reads out loud.

Books which repeat the same rhyming text throughout are also good to engage your child. For example read The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer, and give your child the job of reciting the refrain ‘Silly old Owl! Doesn’t he know? There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo’ at the end of each section.

Or you could try a more interactive book, like You Choose by Nick Sharratt. This is a book with few words, but with pages and pages filled with hundreds of colourful and interesting pictures, designed so that you and your child can have hours of fun deciding whether you would like to live on the moon, in the jungle or in a palace, and choosing your favourite food, clothes and animals - a great book for stimulating the imagination.

Once children start school, they begin to learn to read for themselves. This can be a slow and frustrating process for you and your child, but the most important thing is to encourage your child, whatever their ability. Children can be very sensitive about their reading ability, so never ever compare their level to others in their class or in the family.

When they start to bring home books from school, pick a quiet time to read together, when you are unlikely to be disturbed (if at all possible). Look at the cover of the book and discuss what it may be about, then let your child show you what they can do! If they get stuck, encourage them to look at the pictures and to think about the context to see if they can work out the tricky word. If not, don’t let them struggle, just tell them the word and move on. Above all books should be fun, and children should look forward to spending quality time sharing a book with mum or dad.

Providing a variety of different books for your child does not have to be expensive, you can join your local library and let your child pick his or her own books. Second-hand shops and school fairs are also great places for picking up children’s books for a few pence. Often libraries run holiday reading schemes where children are awarded stickers and special bookmarks for each book they finish, and this can be a good incentive for the more reluctant reader.

Once your children get older and become fluent readers, then you can take it in turns to read a page or a chapter of their book. They will learn from and copy the way you read, and you can inject some humour by using different accents for different characters. Remember, children learn by example, so let them see you enjoying books, magazines and newspapers on a regular basis and they will want to do the same.

Article published on MyFamilyCareVouchers.co.uk (Subscribers Only Parenting Site), April 2009

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