• Ali Mullins

How to Get the Best Out of Books

In a world of screens, with limitless entertainment available at the touch of a button, the humble paperback book endures - and we are so grateful. Books are a fantastic tool for creating opportunities to interact with children in a way that nurtures language learning, curiosity, problem-solving and imaginative thinking.

So how can you make the most of reading with your little one? And is it okay if they want to read the same book over and over again? Here are some helpful tips to foster that love of learning in your child, and avoid switching to autopilot as you prepare to read ‘Where is the Green Sheep?’ for the tenth time this week.

1. Let your child lead

Encourage your child to choose the book and allow them to take charge of holding it and turning the pages. Don’t worry if this means skipping pages or jumping back and forward in the story; it’s all about keeping them interested and creating an opportunity for them to actively participate! They will show you what they want to know and you can channel your teaching in that direction, rather than methodically trudging through each page which may not as yet be of interest to them. It’s also okay to read the same book often as the repetition can help your child to become more familiar with the words and truly connect with their meaning. Children need to hear words many many times to learn them, so their frequent begging to read a book again and again is not only a desire for enjoyment but for learning as well! You can move on to a new story soon; and in the meantime, there are many ways you can switch up a familiar book, which we’ll talk about now.

2. Add your own voice to the story

Don’t be afraid to stray away from only reading the words as they are written on the page. Spending time simply talking to your child about what you see in a picture book is a great way to expose them to the names for different things, as well as words for describing how something looks or feels, where it is and what it is doing (“the brave sheep is jumping into the cold water, splash!”). Depending on your little one’s language level, and their familiarity with the story, you can try pausing throughout the story to let your child fill in the rest (“but where is…” “green sheep!”). If your child is not using words yet, you can add actions and sounds to the pictures you are exploring. And always ALWAYS respond to what your child communicates to you. If they point to a picture, name it; if they say "doggie", add a word to describe the dog; if they simply flip between pages, label their actions, eg. "turn", "back" and pay close attention to what is catching their interest.

3. Make the story meaningful to your child

A fantastic way to do this is to relate the story to your child’s previous experiences, for example, “Here is the wind sheep. It’s windy, like when we went to the park yesterday, and the wind blew your hat off! Do you remember chasing your hat as it flew away?” You can also expand your child’s thinking by going beyond the ‘here-and-now’ (“what do you think could happen if the sheep let go of the kite? The wind could blow it away!”); and talking about how the characters might be feeling, and why you think this (“oh, this sheep is feeling scared of the high diving board, he is covering his eyes and shivering.”).

In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, go “fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks!”

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