Give kids a book habit and you aren’t just teaching them language skills and self-expression, you’re opening them up to endless resources for coping with almost everything life will ever throw at them. Books are written from human experience, they ask the big questions and try to find answers, they talk about our common problems and explore our differences, they teach us empathy and understanding and they help kids grow into well-rounded, thoughtful, interesting and engaged adults. You can take books anywhere, they slot into the tiniest pockets of time and they’re a natural fit whether you’re learning or playing together. And it’s never too early – or too late – to get the habit.
Reading to your new born (yes, really)
Reading to a new baby might be the last thing you think you’ve got time for, but think about it differently and it’s one of the easiest ways to sneak in a few minutes’ rest for yourself. Babies respond to the sound of your voice, not the words, so while you’re nursing or soothing to sleep, pick up your own book and read it aloud. Parents with babies in NICU are encouraged to read aloud to help bonding if physical contact is limited. And healthy babies can benefit just as much. But keep it light, newborn are alert to emotion and react well to rhythm. So you could introduce poetry early or, if you can’t resist a thriller, use a gentle tone of voice, especially for the dark bits.
Books at bedtime
A recent Yougov survey for Scholastic found that 79% of 15 – 17 year olds still love or like being read aloud to, especially at bedtime, only 10% fewer than 6 – 8 year olds. That surprising and delightful news is a great excuse to snuggle up with your children, open a good book and escape for an hour every night. Sure we understand life and work gets in the way of all good intentions, but setting aside a bit of time even a few evenings a week to read to your kids (even when they can read themselves) is a fine habit to start young and obviously one that lasts. With younger children, every parent knows the pain of reading the same story night after night, but with older kids you can choose books you both like and engage with things they’re interested in or concerned about. And don’t forget how many adults love Harry Potter or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
Books at anytime
We all print out recipes or follow them online, but getting kids into cooking is a lot more fun with real recipe books. Choose, for simple instructions, lots of bright and colourful images and plenty of inspiring end-result pics. And setting aside a shelf in the kitchen for recipe books, brightens up the room and encourages children to progress easily from their own step-by-step books to your more advanced ones. Activities like making a patio bird-feeder are more exciting when kids can interact with the experience. Buy a garden bird book and take a few minutes every day for some quiet ‘spotting’ through the glazed bifolds. It’s a great way to develop patience and younger children love creating imaginary lives for the birds, giving them pet names and watching what they get up to all year round.
Make books normal
Another recent Scholastic Report showed that children who were frequent readers had been used to seeing books around their home from an early age. So while Kindle’s are great for grown-ups, holidays and when you can’t wait to find out what happens next in Game of Thrones, if you really want to encourage your kids to get into books, surround them with print and let them see you reading the real thing as often as possible too.
Join your local library
Books can be expensive but libraries are free to join, easy to use and a local resource we should all support – readers of the future are depending on us. Most libraries in the UK have Story Mornings and they’re ideal for introducing pre-school kids to listening as part of a group and sharing attention with other children. Libraries also expect you to take care of books and that’s no bad thing to teach kids as early as possible. And they’re also a great place to discover different writers, try before you buy and pick up ideas to encourage reluctant readers or engage teens and young adults.
Bitten by the book bug already? Share the love by organising a local kids’ book swap (be careful not to give away favourites) or have an annual book sale. If you’re looking for inspiration check out Amsterdam’s Vondelpark where the children of one of Europe’s most literate cities turn into market traders and sell off their outgrown books and toys to celebrate King’s Day every year in April. And finally, don’t forget charity shops, they’re always packed with bargain books and great places for kids to rummage.
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