Rachel Hill, mum of Poppy (five) and Ollie (four), guest blogs for Ladybird this week. She looks at the milestones her children have gone through, considers the part books have played in their development and gives some fantastic tips and advice on encouraging children to read. Thanks Rachel!
My children have been read to from day one. We've surrounded them with books and have used them at every stage of our children’s development. And because we read a lot, it's part of their daily routine. We often take books out to lunch with us, the car is stuffed with them and there is not a charity shop within ten miles which has not been ransacked on a regular basis for a new read! We’ve also incorporated books into potty training and have books in the bathroom, toilet and every other room too! It then seems to have become a default position to pick up a book and have a little (or long) read.
The first reading milestone I particularly noticed was when my children suddenly went from babbling and laughing at books to actually repeating words, pointing at pictures and saying simple words like “duck”. I’ve found that without doubt books came into their own when my children started to talk. Their insatiable thirst for knowledge, and the need to play and experiment with language is amazing. From rhyming words (sadly 'mum's bum' was a favourite in our house) to discussing book characters, words have really come alive for them. I always try to encourage and engage them by asking them what they think would happen next, what they think about what the character does; “do you think the Gruffalo gets indigestion?” provoked one of the funniest conversations I've ever had with a three year old
If you ever feel embarrassed about how you read to your kids, I would say that children really couldn’t care less if you can't sing, can't make voices or sound like a sheep when you try and 'do' a dragon! They just want you to try – and it's less dull reading the book for the fiftieth time if you do it in a silly accent. Also, don’t worry about specific books for a specific gender. By and large they have not been assimilated into 'boy/girl' roles by the time they start school. My son loves fairies, and why not? If your child will read a book on a certain subject, get it. You will never regret reading a book because even if it's not a hit, a little bit more of the world is unlocked for them.
My daughter had a slight speech delay and on the recommendation of our speech therapist we invested in some Dr Seuss and Topsy andTim books, as they have very clear, short sentences. This allowed her to easily hear how the word should sound. I'd then miss a word and get her to fill it in. Kids love finishing your sentences, which is why you can never get a word in edgeways!
Now we are helping them learn to read and it's all about going slowly, being patient and rewarding the attempt rather than the result. Helping them read and sound out the words on the page is very different from when you are reading to them. They are working to decode the words and sound them out and it is actually really tiring for them (so skip the bedtime reading drills and go for a relaxed 15 minutes after school instead). You also shouldn’t be afraid to return to books because you think 'oh that's too babyish now'. My five year old still loves rediscovering books she abandoned two years previously as she can now try to read them herself.
When my daughter started school we had a wonderful moment (for her and for me) when she read through a book without any help. It is going to be very interesting to see how my children develop and what their interests and abilities are as they continue their education. They are very different; Poppy is very advanced for her age and the eldest in her year and Olly is the youngest, just starting Reception this September at 4 years 2 months. He is nowhere near the same stage Poppy was at the same age – he can read his own name and anything that is on the blinking Mario Kart but other than that he's entirely uninterested in learning!
The way I read to my children, and the books I buy them, has certainly evolved. To start with it was all me, I chose the books to buy, I chose the books to read, I read them. Now they pick them, they select which ones we will read and they will have a go at reading part, or talking about the books. It’s great to see which books they choose – reflecting their own interests and personalities. One thing that is a real achievement to me is that my kids actually now LOVE reading. They read instinctively and I think that's the greatest gift you can give them – it opens up their world and lets them discover things that THEY enjoy.
For advice, videos and mums' real life experiences of every age and stage, visit the dedicated Milestones section of Ladybird.com.