My husband always laughs about how I retell events: they are not a basic frame of starting from point A and ending at point B, but rather a rich labyrinthine web of intrigue that could just be about a trip to the supermarket. He jokingly calls them “Sarah Truths” as they’re not lies, as such; instead they are a reflection of my love of reading. On my, ‘Meet The Teacher’ sheets given out to new students at the start of the academic year, I announce myself as an eater of books as I do truly devour books—sometimes nibbling and other times gorging myself!
We all know that the more you read, the more knowledgeable you will become, but reading with your child isn’t just about trying to turn them into Red Brick or Ivy League scholars. It’s about strengthening that loving bond between them and you. Think back to your childhood. What do you remember about books? Furtively fumbling under the covers with blinking torches? Snuggled on the sofa whilst the rain poured outside? Sat side by side with a beloved relative as you were read to? I can remember the book my mum read to me when my brother was born. We sat in a Laura Ashley armchair, squished together, entranced by Long John Silver and Jim’s adventures in Treasure Island. I was too big to sit on her lap at almost seven (I was a very tall six year old!) but those chilly nights after he came into the world, we had this wonderful time together when it was pitch black outside with the two of us bathed in yellow light. A swashbuckling time for just the two of us together.
As a teacher, I live for the reading times in class. There was a time when a child refused to leave the classroom at the end of the school day after I didn’t tell him what happened to Zach in Goodnight Mister Tom. Those moments are the times when you see quite hardened characters become lost in someone else’s words. When sometimes, the class bully falls fast asleep and awakes with that soft stickiness that children do. Reading develops imaginations. It creates links. It allows children (and adults) an understanding of worlds they do not inhabit.
So how do you do it?
Find somewhere quiet without any distractions—turn off the TV/radio/computer. Candy Crush can wait!
Sharing books children have chosen shows you care what they think, that their opinion matters, and they are more likely to engage with the book. Leave books at their level so they can reach and look at the books themselves. Board books are fantastically strong for tough-wearing toddlers and teething babies.
Encourage your child to hold the book themselves and/or turn the pages whilst you sit close together.
If there are illustrations, relate them to something your child knows. Ask them to describe the characters or situation or what will happen next. Encourage them to tell you the story by looking at the pictures. Picture books are so incredibly important—books like The Snowman by Raymond Briggs or Tuesday by David Wiesner are very important to a child’s development of storytelling.
Talking about the characters and their dilemmas helps children understand relationships and is an excellent way for you to get to know each other or discuss difficult issues. Give your child plenty of time to respond. Ask them what will happen next, how a character might be feeling, or how the book makes them feel. There are a multitude of books about emotions—for example, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae deals with humiliation, not only through the rhythmic language but also through the sympathetic illustrations.
It doesn’t matter how you read with a child, as long as you both enjoy the time together. Don’t be afraid to use funny voices; children love this! Children do not care how accurate a voice is; to them, it is more about a funny time with their parent. I find animal voices hilarious, even if Beans is a little too young to appreciate the effort in them!
It is also never too early to start reading or singing to your baby. Initially, it doesn’t even matter if you read Hello Magazine or The Spectator; babies, both here and unborn, love hearing your voice and it’s important that you use it with them. Sing rhymes, chat to them about your shopping. From around 18 weeks’ gestation, babies are aware of your voice and they will recognise it before they’re even born. If you’re in the UK, speak to your Health Visitor about your free Bookstart pack as there are a couple of free books in there. Although it is incredibly important for your baby to own books, make sure you join your local library, not only for the free messy mornings but also for the wealth of stories and free books to enjoy with your child.
As Rainbows & Unicorns is a worldwide effort, we have decided to create a Vimeo channel of stories for our babies. Between us, we will create a story library read in a wide range of accents.
Here’s one of the first, Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake, a childhood favourite of mine.
If you are interested in adding some beloved stories to our library, alert us to your Vimeo account and we will add your videos to our stream!