Reading with Children

See also: Supporting Children's Formal Learning

Reading to and with your children from a very early age is one of the most helpful things that you can do to support their learning.

Some parents, however, find it very daunting and are not sure what to do to help their children.

This page is designed to give you some ideas about how to read with your children so that you and they get the most out of this opportunity.

Reading Starts at an Early Age

A love of books can start very early in life.

You can start to share books with your children from very early on, when they are just a few months old. Once they are old enough to sit on your knee, and want something to look at or touch, you can start with simple picture books and board books. Many of these have textural insets, making them both attractive and fun.

Such books are also age-appropriate, which is important.

Some people think that very young children should have ‘real’ books read to them, including classic children’s books aimed at older children. There does not seem to be any evidence that this inculcates a love of reading early on. Instead, it is probably better to choose brightly coloured picture books that you can share.

Top Tip!

Don’t force it.

Small children have very short attention spans, and may only be interested for a few minutes before they want to look at something else. If they don’t seem interested in a book, try something else, and come back to books another time.

Most board books for very young children don’t have stories. Instead, they repeat simple words and phrases, to help your child to develop language skills.

You may feel that this repetition of particular phrases is going to drive you mad, but it is proven to help with language development, so you may just have to put up with it. Later on, you can move onto stories.

Reading to or reading with?

It helps to think of reading as a shared experience.

In other words, you are not reading to your child, you are, together, sharing a book. You don’t have to read every last word. In fact, you don’t have to read any words if you don’t want to do so. You can just talk about what’s in the pictures, and explain to the child what they are seeing and touching. Over time, as your child develops, they will start to tell you, instead of you telling them.

Why is this important? Because it is developing your child’s language skills.

Talking to your children is probably the single most important thing that you do to develop their language skills. Reading a book together is just another way of talking about something. Instead of going out and looking at ducks in the rain, for example, you can sit at home and look at pictures of ducks in a book.

Top Tip!

Sharing books in this way also makes it easier to make the transition to ‘learning to read’. If you have always read books to your child, they may revolt at the idea that they should now read to you. But if you have always shared books, talking about them together, then reading to you is a very straightforward next step.

Many people continue to read stories to their children for many years. Story-time, and book-sharing, becomes a way to talk, and dedicated time that you spend with your child. This can help to keep communication channels open, as books can give you a way to talk about difficult subjects such as bullying and growing up.

Supporting ‘Learning to Read

In the UK, at least, children generally start ‘learning to read’ as soon as they start school, aged 4 or 5.

This usually starts with phonics, the system of sounds that is used to make up words. In English, it starts with one-letter sounds (s, a, t, p, i, n, b, c and so on) then moves onto double letters, including what are called ‘split digraphs’, or sounds like ‘i_e’, for example, in ‘bite’ and ‘size’. Learning all the sounds can take several terms of schooling.

Phonics is about sounds, not letters.

Your child will therefore, for example, know S as ‘sssss’, and not as ‘ess’, A as ‘a’ not ‘ay’, and B as ‘buh’, not ‘bee’.

They are also generally taught using lower case letters. When you are reading with your children, try to use the sounds, not the names of the letters, to avoid confusion. If you are making flashcards, use lower case letters.

Most schools and nurseries will have introduced at least some phonics before anyone is sent home with a ‘reading book’, but don’t be surprised if your child does not know all, or even any, of the sounds in their book.

You may therefore need alternative strategies to avoid putting them off reading altogether.

Strategies For Supporting Early Reading

  • Ask your child to find you a letter or sound that they recognise (most children will recognise ‘s’ quite quickly, for example), then find other examples of the same sound. You can also ask them to find a particular sound.
  • Use flashcards (cards with a single letter or sound, or a simple word on each), either bought or made, to make up words with the sounds that they know, and help them to ‘sound them out’, which means making each sound in turn, and then running them together to make a word. The first sounds taught in phonics are usually S, A, T, P, I and N, so these are good starting points.
  • Talk about the pictures in the book, and what they think the characters might be doing and thinking and why.
  • Read the book to them, and then ask them to tell you the story, based on the pictures. This may not sound like reading, but it helps to develop language skills.
  • Read a page, and then ask them to tell you what they think will happen next. You can also do this with any stories that you are reading to them. Again, this helps to develop language and story-telling skills.

It is important to try to read together every night. Aim to spend about five or ten minutes, no more, and make it a part of your routine.

More Advanced Reading

As your children go through the early years of school, the books they bring home will become more complicated. You may need to take several days to read the whole book together.

It is still important to discuss the story, and ask them to explain what has happened so far, or retell the story in their own words.

Some children’s reading skills advance faster than their comprehension, or understanding. They may, therefore, be capable of reading a book, because they can sound out all the words, but not actually understand it at all. Asking them to retell the story to you can avoid this problem.

From an early stage, it’s a good idea to encourage your children to read at least odd words in their own books, and not just in school ‘reading books’. You want to avoid the idea that there are ‘reading books’, which they will be able to read, and ‘other books’, which they won’t, and which you will have to read to them.

Remember, reading is meant to be fun...

Reading should not be a test, of you or your child. If they are struggling with a particular word, help them. Try separating it into chunks to help them read it, especially if it is phonic. If it’s not phonic, just read it out to them.

If your child couldn’t tie their shoelaces, you would help them. Think of reading in the same way. If they are struggling, just help, even if you think they should be able to read that word.