Given that reading is a vital life skill, and in celebration of World Book Day on 23 April, author and senior lecturer at Embury Institute for Higher Education*, Nicole Rimensberger, shares her tips on how to instil a love of reading in young children.
Rimensberger recently self-published her first children’s book, Witchfield, an adventure story with a magical twist. She believes that books should be everywhere in the home (not just neatly stacked on bookshelves) – on coffee tables, on beds, on the couch, on the kitchen counter, even on the floor. “It may seem obvious, but when children see books everywhere, they become part of their daily lives, which is more likely to foster a love of books later on,” she explains. “They will learn that when they are bored, in need of distraction or just curious – all they need to do is to grab their nearest book.”
Rimensberger cites Emilie Buchwald, who said, “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents.” She says that this sums up the powerful role parents play in establishing a love of reading in young children. “Books represent quality time with mom or dad, be it with cuddles before bed or to calm down and bond after a tantrum, or to giggle and laugh about together during the day. It’s about so much more than just a book or a story at this stage, it’s about fostering the relationship as well as a love of books,” she says.
“Young children, in particular, relate to books as objects first before they fully understand how they work or what they do. They are attracted to the bright, cheerful covers, they want to explore them in a tactile way – what do they feel like? Are they heavy or light? Perhaps even, what do they taste like? There is nothing wrong when toddlers treat books like objects to play with. Learning how to treat a book gently comes later, so for now, books are about fun, exploration and learning. This is where tactile books, books with holes, pop-up books or books with flaps become very popular and can provide endless entertainment for curious fingers and curious minds.”
Rimensberger advises that reading to toddlers and young children should be about the interaction, and suggests parents and teachers get creative for story time. “There’s no need to stick to the script – much amusement can be had when a familiar story is told with a new twist. The ensuing argument is a great opportunity for language development,” she says, “Repetition, rhyme, word play and prediction are all part of the parental tool box when it comes to story-telling and language. The child can complete sentences, guess what will happen next, think up reasons why something happened, repeat words or phrases and, in a general sense, let story-time become more of a conversation than about making it from beginning to end.”
She adds that probably the most important, yet often forgotten, element of fostering a love of reading in children is for parents to show an interest in books themselves. “Little eyes are always watching and they notice the objects that occupy the hands and minds of the adults around them – is it a cell phone or is it a book? What fascinates mom or dad is more likely to draw the attention of children too. Parents should remember, however, that buying lots of books doesn’t automatically encourage reading; becoming a reading role model does.”