Book the time to read with your tot

Book the time to read with your tot

Nicole Walker of Bookstart shares the benefits of reading to tots (for you as well as them), and shows how to get the most out of it

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It's never too early to start reading with your baby says Head of Early Years at Book Trust, Nicole Walker. We asked her how to ensure your baby (and you) get the most out of reading time together.

1. When should a parent start to think about reading with their baby?

Recent research has shown that the optimum time for sharing stories and books with your child is 3 and 4 months old, at this age babies are developing their visual, attention and dexterity skills. However, it's never too early to start reading with your baby. Even newborn babies enjoy stories and rhymes. We also know that whilst babies may not be following the story they will be using the shared activity to build social routines and to begin their journey towards understanding language and vocabulary.

2. What are the benefits of starting reading early with your baby?

Reading with your child has enormous benefits. Firstly, it can be a hugely enjoyable experience for parent and child. Storytime can be a lovely, relaxing time for the parent and child to bond. The benefits of early book sharing extend far beyond infancy - evidence has shown that if a parent or carer reads to their child every day they will be almost 12 months ahead of their age group when they start school, in terms of reading and language skills. We also know that the more words a baby is exposed to, the better prepared they are to eventually start reading on their own.

3. Can reading with baby/toddler help with the bedtime routine?

Absolutely. Recently, The University of Sheffield released research that suggests the best time for babies to pick up new skills may be just before bedtime. And research by University College London has shown that a regular bedtime routine supports cognitive development. Including stories in a child's bedtime routine helps develop the habit of reading for pleasure from their very first days.

4. What benefits can reading with tots have for their developing their skills?

As you might expect reading helps to develop children listening and literacy skills but it can also help to develop a child's social skills – reading together provides the perfect opportunity to develop two-way communication. In addition, book sharing can also help to develop motor skills – holding the book, turning pages and pointing at pictures.

5. Why do you think so many parents don't read with their tots?

Many parents still believe babies and toddlers are too young to engage with books. They think because their child is too young to follow a story they won't be getting anything out of the experience but as I have already explained even tiny babies will be taking information from the experience that will help them to develop those early skills. Parents are busy people. Finding the time to read with your child can be difficult but there are many ways to share stories and rhymes with your child. You can incorporate reading into your everyday activities – reading and book sharing involves different skills - talking, listening and looking - all in a single activity – how's that for multi-tasking?

6. A recent survey (by Leapfrog) says parents lack confidence when it comes to teaching their children to read, what would you say to them?

Some parents lack confidence for a number of reasons. Perhaps they weren't read to as children themselves. Perhaps they feel silly reading aloud. Perhaps they don't know which books are appropriate for their child. Book Trust provides a range of guidance for parents and an online book finder. You can also talk to professionals in your local library or children's centre about booksharing and storytime.

7. Can you give us your top tips for getting the most out of reading to your tots?

• Whatever you do - make it fun! Reading together should be an enjoyable experience for parent and child.

• Sit close together when sharing a book and encourage your child to hold the book themselves and/or turn the pages.

• Sharing books isn't just about the words, especially with really young children. Point to the pictures and relate them to something your child knows.

• Go to Book Start for more information, guidance and fun tips.

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