Every time I watch an episode of Bluey, I always come away questioning if I play enough with my little ones. Play and learning are two things I prioritise in our home, but I am always questioning if I do enough… Playing is such an important aspect of learning, and all learning should be fun and this extends to reading too.
As a parent in 2023, it feels like you are always being told and pressured into what you should be doing for your child; are you giving them too much screen-time whilst also making sure they are tech-savvy enough? Are you making sure their diet is balanced nutritionally whilst also making sure you’re being environmentally conscious? Are you present and attentive enough to support their needs an emotions whilst also not being a helicopter parent and damaging their success as an adult? On these days, when I am overwhelmed, I retreat to reading and books with my two because that is a safe space for me. Reading books was the only way I got through lockdown with a one-year-old while pregnant. I am confident enough to know what to do with a book; not only are they one of my interests, but it’s also my profession.
In this way, I am incredibly fortunate, but I didn’t realise quite how lucky and unusual that a confidence of books can be until I started chatting to other mums and parents after I had my first-born. Quite a few times, I sensed a bit of a fear around parenting and books - that perhaps a book would be bought and it would be too old for their child, and it might put them off reading… or the parents just weren’t sure what to do with a book, as if they were afraid of doing the wrong thing.
If there’s just one thing you take away from reading this blog, it’s that when it comes to reading and books, there isn’t a wrong way. Just building positive experiences and having access to books opens up a whole world of potential for your child throughout their lives.
According to the BookTrust, children who read have better life chances, and can, in part, to provide with some of the tools that can help them to overcome disadvantages caused by inequalities.
Be healthier and happier children with better mental wellbeing and self-esteem.
Do better at school and make more progress across the curriculum.
Develop creativity and empathy.
Helping your child get the most out of reading and build the foundations of them becoming a lifelong reader is more than just sitting down with them and reading a book in the traditional sense. There’s a time for this, but toddlers and children so very rarely want to sit still and focus, that changing it up and making books and reading more dynamic is the way forward.
I do this by turning story time and books into playtime - that way I know they’re reading and getting exposure to books and stories, and they have fun doing it, and usually, I do too!
Tips on how to make story time into playtime!
—Follow your child’s interests.
One thing I had to let go of was the idea that there were some books my child should be reading, tied into a general snobbery around books. All absolutely nonsense. If your child is interested in diggers start there and find picture books, sticker books, colouring books on diggers. If your child loves a particular TV show or film, there are usually books that tie into the series, and will provide a fun and comfortable space for your child to enjoy reading. All that matters is that they are interested and reading.
—Access to books.
Having access to books is so important, but buying new books constantly can be expensive, not to mention they take up a LOT of space. Your local library is always a great resource, especially if you get your child to choose the books they want to borrow, they feel involved and are more likely to have an interest in the book they’ve picked.
You could also share and rotate books within your group of friends.
—Take cues from the book you’re reading.
Make games based on the story, if the book is about hide-and-seek, play it with them, or perhaps just play with their teddies and favourite toys around the room. Ask your child about what they’re reading, have they felt like this before, is this similar to something you’ve done before?
—If your child want to read the same book over and over and over again.
Don’t worry, this is normal. It’s frustrating and boring for the parents, but it helps your child’s early reading, vocabulary and comprehension skills.
I usually suggest that we read a new book first, then we can read the favourite book again afterwards. There’s lots of ways to make a story you’ve read a billion times fun again - try reading it as quickly as you can, or as slowly as you can. Try reading it in a high-pitched voice or as low a voice as you can. You can also try getting your little one to ‘read’ one part (you know they know all the words!) and you reading another.
—Add voices or actions.
I know this one can make you feel a bit silly, and certainly I often feel silly when doing this. My partner is absolutely brilliant at this part, he does it with ease and fun; his story times always end with laughter, silliness and, most recently, wrestling.
If you lean into the story and have fun with it, it makes reading a fun experience for you and your child. If there’s actions described in the book, act it out! If there’s a word called out in the text, try and say it in a loud funny voice. I am not always good at this part, but often we end up laughing about how not very good I am and that’s fun too.
My story times often end in singing or a song - different from my partners, but our children seem to enjoy both and that’s the main thing!
—A love of stories
Although the benefits of physically reading have been well documented, I do also believe that it’s the story element that’s the most important part, so if your child finds a love of audiobooks, storybooks, podcasts, video games, there’s stories, experiences, imaginations and perspectives in all those, so support their love of these too.
Gemma Wilkinson-Lowe is Roy's Second Boy's First Girl - AKA first grandchild of her generation. She is a mother to two toddlers (otherwise known as Roy's Second Boy's First Girl's First Boy and Second Boy).
Gemma is an editor and writer of children's books, with a particular passion for making reading and stories fun, enjoyable and accessible for all children of all abilities. You can also read other interesting blogs from her at Gemma Writes Stuff.