World Book Day exists to change lives through a love of books and shared reading. Every year, children of all ages will dress up as their favourite book characters and parade into school to share their stories.
This World Book Day will be different from previous years for very obvious reasons, but making time to read a book to your child is still possible in a lot of cases. If not, consider listening to an e-book or watching someone read one on YouTube or Zoom, or get creative yourself and make up your very own story to entertain your little one!
But why is reading such an important part of a child’s day?
Reading introduces them to new vocabulary. I’m pretty sure that without her Flip-Flap Jungle book my six year-old would never have heard of a parakeet. And my toddler is now able to recite the features of a gruffalo with confidence (a very useful skill, I’m sure you would agree!). Books can open up their knowledge of new words that probably wouldn’t come up in everyday conversation. Better still, it gives them a context to use the words in.
Reading teaches them patterns in language. Have you been introduced to the joys of the Usborne ‘That’s Not My…’ series? After you’ve read them fifty times they can get a bit much. But that patterned sentence which repeats again and again means that the child knows what to expect and can join in, giving them confidence to speak and teaching them sentence structure. See also: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Three Little Pigs, and most Julia Donaldson picture books.
Reading introduces them to whole new worlds.We are all stuck inside at the moment, but even in better times travel with a little one poses whole new problems! But through reading books set in different places or cultures, your child will broaden their understanding of the world and different ways of life. One of my favourites is Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox, all about babies who are born all across the world. But ones set in the UK also do the same – we’ve had lots of chats about the lives of farmers, lighthouse keepers and zookeepers to name a few.
Reading gets them into the mind of someone else. My six year-old is a fan of the Daisy and The Trouble With… series by Kes Gray. Daisy is a hilarious little girl who gets into all sorts of scrapes but you can’t help but love her! One of my favourites is when she goes to a car-boot sale and sells the contents of her Mum’s jewellery box without her knowledge. Ouch! Exposing your child to lots of different characters and personalities through reading encourages empathy and understanding of others points of view.
Reading teaches them all sorts of new things. Of course some of these are practical – reading a recipe, instructions or signposts for example. But it also introduces them to lots of cultural references – traditional tales are amazing for this. My Dad told me once that ‘all knowledge is useful’ and I think he was right (I might not directly use my knowledge of the Tudors gained through extensive reading of Philippa Gregory books, but it probably has improved my mind somehow or other…)
Reading together leads to them reading for fun. As a teacher, this is our number one aim! You can draw a direct line from reading lift-the-flap books to your baby to them devouring a Harry Potter at junior school. What better gift could you give your child? I think part of this is giving them a lot of choice over what they read. My toddler likes books best about characters that she knows from TV – Bing, Peppa Pig and Iggle Piggle. They wouldn’t be my first choice for her but we go along with it. An older child might be obsessed with Horrible History books, or Jacqueline Wilson, and this is fine – as long as they are enjoying it! Try to resist the urge to force on them what you enjoyed (or things you think they SHOULD be reading).
So that’s my thoughts on some of the benefits of reading with babies and children – of course there are lots of others! Making time to read with a little one really is one of the best gifts you can give them.
But with public libraries in decline, not every family will have access to books. We take in preloved books to redistribute to Bristolians in need so that families can enjoy the benefits of reading together. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any books to donate.