Encouraging an interest in reading and writing from the time a baby is very young, before he or she starts school. This is what experts call emergent literacy.
It is not about over-stimulating our little one with impossible activities from birth or trying to make him or her a superbaby. It is simply about fostering a love of reading and writing at an early age, with a lot of common sense and a lot of fun.
Some children develop an innate love of reading. From the age of 5 or 6 they enjoy reading on their own and writing and, by the time they are 10, they are avid readers and start writing their own stories. Others, on the other hand, take longer to acquire the habit or need an adult to accompany them or simply prefer to play and be with other children.
Which behaviour is better? None, all are valid. A taste for reading cannot be forced, it can simply be encouraged.
No one doubts the advantages that reading has on children’s development. It stimulates their imagination, enriches their expression and vocabulary, helps them to concentrate, improves their reading comprehension… As parents, our job in this sense is to provide them with all the tools so that their contact with books becomes something pleasant and fun that they want to do.
There is no exact time to start, just as it is never too early to start. We can start by reading aloud to our baby. Even if she doesn’t understand what we are doing, she may find the soothing sound of our voice or the changes in tone if we emulate various characters, or just spending quiet time together pleasurable.
As they get older, putting textured and coloured cloth books in their hands will encourage them to interact with them and they will soon learn to turn the pages and look for the shapes that interest them – even bath time can be a fun time to read a laminated book!
Singing stories like Baby Music Stimulation are a great way to draw their attention to made-up stories. Do you know them?
It’s important to offer them variety, so we know what piques their interest and what doesn’t. Accompanying them to the bookshop to choose for themselves or to the library is an excellent exercise.
It is also very positive to exchange books with friends. In this way, they can talk about them, discuss what they liked best, what their favourite characters are and the best anecdotes.
Most children need the company of an adult when they are learning to read. It is important to spend time with them at this stage, because if we can get the seed of love for reading to take root, there is a much better chance that our child will become a motivated reader. This phase can be longer or shorter. Some children will quickly become “independent” and others will need to be accompanied throughout their primary school years.
Either way, it is important to lead by example by showing love and care for books, letting our children watch us read while they play beside us or rest in their bouncer, sharing how the stories make us feel and encouraging them to dive into the adventure-filled pages.