I beg you all to read superb books aloud to your children! Begin on the day they are born. I am very serious about this: at least three stories and five nursery rhymes a day, if not more, and not only at bedtime, either.
Read with passion and expressive abandon, maintaining the same variety in your voice at exactly the same place in the story or rhyme every time, keeping the same louds and softs, the same highs and lows, the same fasts and slows.
In this manner your children will begin to remember the words by remembering the ‘tune’ of your reading. Memorising a rhyme or story and turning the pages at the right time is an important step in learning to read and should never be discounted as cheating.
Fill their minds with a torrent of wonderful words, familiar and unfamiliar, common and grand, basic and lofty. And always make it a wild and joyful experience.
If a borrowed story book or nursery-rhyme book becomes favourite, do your utmost to purchase it for your child. Children who have lived in book-filled homes prior to going to school are known to be scholastically advantaged for the rest of their lives. And children who have memorised eight nursery rhymes by the age of three, so I have been told, are always the best readers by the age of eight.
As children become more and more familiar with a book, play games which focus on individual words and letters, such as covering repetitive or rhyming words with your fingers and letting the child guess which word might be underneath.
Make it harder and harder – but keep ‘fun’ uppermost in your mind – by asking what letter the hidden word might start with. Or you might choose common words like ‘and’ or ‘the’ and find them on every page yourself, pointing them out to the child with squeals of excitement at each new discovery; then let the child find them, as a game, always as ‘fun’. Write the words on a piece of paper in a sentence that has meaning to the child: e.g ‘Chloë loves the beach and Nana,’ and stick it on the fridge.
Provide a variety of writing materials: different thicknesses of pen and crayon and pencil, scraps of computer paper, tiny notebooks, real exercise books, and coloured paper and leave them lying around so that children can draw, or draw/write, or pretend to write, or really write anything from notices for their bedroom doors, to shopping lists, letters to grandparents, complaints to parents, requests to Santa, and so on. It is tremendously important for the recognition of letters, and the relationship of those letters to sounds, that children should grapple with their own print as early as possible. Reading and writing go hand in hand: each depends upon, and improves the other, in a cycle of development.
The books read by the children should be beautiful, intrinsically rewarding books such as Where the Wild Things Are, (scary), The Giant Devil Dingo (how the world became), Guess What? (disgusting), Julius, the Baby of the World (hilarious), Hop on Pop (easy), and Koala Lou (touching). These beautiful books create a need by satisfying a need. If we didn’t know chocolate was delicious we’d never crave for it – so it is with books. These books all feel smooth, smell nice, look enticing and present their readers with real rewards for the effort of reading them.
Another essential thing to be found in a book-loving home is that the parents usually take parenting seriously. They role-play parenting like mad. They know they ought to read to their children so they do. The kids are caught up in a bookish world.
At night they are warm and safe with a big, loving, protective parent beside the bed reading them stories night after night. In the day time they squeeze on to a comforting lap and in the security of a parent’s loving warmth listen to all manner of horrors and joys coming out of books. The relationship between parent and child during the stories is one of warmth and love which makes the child associate books with warmth and love and pleasure and security. How attractive books become!
And, lastly, for children to be able to learn to love books they need time to read; a quiet place to read in; warmth in winter; a comfortable spot to curl up in; and enough light to read by.
Mem Fox’s 10 read-aloud commandments
- Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud.
- Read at least three stories a day: it may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read.
- Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, or flat, or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.
- Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners.
- Read the stories that the kids love, over and over and over again, and always read in the same ‘tune’ for each book: i.e. with the same intonations on each page, each time.
- Let children hear lots of language by talking to them constantly about the pictures, or anything else connected to the book; or sing any old song that you can remember; or say nursery rhymes in a bouncy way; or be noisy together doing clapping games.
- Look for rhyme, rhythm or repetition in books for young children, and make sure the books are really short.
- Play games with the things that you and the child can see on the page, such as letting kids finish rhymes, and finding the letters that start the child’s name and yours, remembering that it’s never work, it’s always a fabulous game.
- Never ever teach reading, or get tense around books.
- Read aloud every day because you just love being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do. This is as important for fathers as it is for mothers!