Did you know that your child’s reading skills influence him or her in all subjects? That reading for pleasure can influence your child’s health until late in life? And that reading for pleasure, starting at an early age, can playfully teach and help your child’s creativity, peace of mind and even analytical skills?
This might come as a surprise to many parents in Hong Kong. According to the latest PIRLS study, Hong Kong ranks very high worldwide in how much children read or to be more specific, how much children have to read. However, Hong Kong’s children score very low worldwide in how much they enjoy reading. I am biased, and I am happy to admit it. I have however, noticed first-hand how kids, who relish reading, do better in school, have a wider vocabulary and are better equipped to hold a conversation, argue their ideas, present to and persuade others of their views. So, what is there not to like?
Help your children enjoy reading from an early age. Reading aloud with your kids is a very important first step, long before they can read themselves. Why? Because it is not only about the skill of reading, but it is the whole experience. The cuddling up while reading, the time bonding with you and having your complete attention during a bedtime reading session and even feeling comfortable to ask any questions.
Many studies say you should start when the child is in the womb. Starting this early allows you to practice your reading skills and gives your baby the opportunity to hear your voice.
But how should I read with smaller kids? Reading aloud is not about reading every word in the story, at least not with small children. Start with sounds and describe the illustrations you find in the book. Forget about reading a whole story word for word, your child does not yet have the attention span for a whole story.
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A book allows you to talk to your children about topics that maybe you would not touch upon in every-day life. Think through your every day and you will realize how often you use the same vocabulary over and over again – put on your shoes, wash your hands, should we play with XYZ, are you hungry, etc. A book allows you to bring in new vocabulary that otherwise your child might not have been exposed to.
But if reading has all these benefits, how can I make the most out of it?
Yes, make reading as fun as possible for you and your child. Start with topics your child enjoys, let her decide – dinosaurs, space, marine animals, football, cars, etc. Don’t be judgmental, go to the library or a bookstore and let them choose a book they would like to read. You might not find his or her favorite book right away. And it might not even be a book. In our case it was the Playmobil catalogue. Yes! Our bedtime reading for weeks was the Playmobil catalogue, because that was what my son was interested in.
And yes no worries, they will grow into reading more “serious” books. However, recognize that they are learning, so give them some space, don’t expect Shakespeare and don’t underestimate the power of graphic novels (cartoons).
For many parents, including me, this is the boring part. Your child likes a book, but you are completely bored of reading the same book for the umpteenth time. Are you aware though, re-reading books is extremely important and a very healthy habit. Science confirms this. This is how your child learns.He or she learns new vocabulary, new syntax and grammar with every reading. Make it fun and test your child, to see how much he or she has understood. For example, finish a page with a completely different word or outcome. If the child has read the books many times before, he will call you out and tell you the “proper” ending. The crazier the ending you are inventing, the better.
Create a space in which your kids can ask questions about anything. Ask them open-ended questions that will create a discussion. What do you think this book is about? Looking at the cover, what do you think will happen? How many fish can you count on this page? Do you have a favorite dinosaur, why? What do you think, will the girl in the story do now?
Many parents believe that reading aloud means reading the book aloud word for word. Reading a book aloud is so much more than the specific words in the story. This makes the reading aloud more fun for the child, but also for you. You will be surprised how much fun a more interactive story time is. This experience as a whole then becomes a relished moment in your and your child’s day.
This is one, many parents feel self-conscious about. No need, you are in front of your child, who adores you. Best of all, being silly in front of your child just makes the bond stronger. The whole reading experience becomes more fun and therefore kids remember and learn more. Sounds counter-intuitive, but we all know how we grasp more information, if we enjoy the topic and we are having fun.
Spread books around the house, yes even in the bathroom. Bath time is great for story time. Actually, anytime and anywhere is good for some story time. A trick to get the kids to read different books is to switch the books laying around the house with new books every so often. We used to do it seasonally, in summer books about swimming and marine animals, for Mid-Autumn festival books about the moon, Chinese tales and tides.
Seriously! You don't need to read for hours, but try to make it a habit that you and your child look forward to. A little special bonding moment, where you can cuddle up close to each other and spend quality time together.
If you are trying to raise your children in more than one language then reading aloud is the perfect way to expand their vocabulary and help them feel comfortable using their languages. Often kids that have perfectly spoken the home language until the children go to school, refuse to speak the home language. Reading can help to make this a smoother transition.
If you want to read more about raising bilingual kids and reading, checkout TimTimTom's Blog
Guest Post by Gabriela Simmons, Founder of TimTimTom, Bilingual, Personalised Books for Kids.
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