Back to basics … the importance of ‘Storytime’

Do you or does someone else read to your child every day and do you think it’s important to read to your child every day?

Do you get bored reading the same story for the 1000th time? When this is the case do you ever feel tempted to just pop a video on for your child to watch instead of reading them a story?

The Children's House Storytime

If you’re as old as I am you might remember Jackanory.  A famous actor sitting in a big chair, reading a story on television. I remember this programme fondly; it was fantastic.  All the actors did was use their expressions and voices to capture your imagination. There was no video or special effects, simply a person in a chair reading a story. It’s hard to comprehend just how excited we’d all get for the following day when we could listen to the next chapter… turns out life was much different then and a lot has changed.

In the times that we live in where technology is all around us, it is SO easy to pop an audio book on, play a video on the iPad or even let your child play games online. This may be because we want to keep up to date with all the latest news on social media or because there are so many other jobs to be done that we feel we can’t spare the time to read to our children.

Storytime is often looked over and it can be all too easy to think that it doesn't matter Click To TweetStorytime is often looked over and it can be all too easy to think that it doesn’t matter.

This is where we are wrong; research will tell you that children fair better throughout their childhood if parents and carers use books and stories as a regular daily practice.

Reading a story aloud is one of the most important things carers and teachers can do with children. Books and stories stimulate a child’s imagination and expand their understanding of the world. It builds many foundational skills, introduces vocabulary and provides a model of fluent and expressive reading. It also helps them develop vital language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word and helps them recognise what reading for pleasure is all about… all that learning in a small children’s book!

The Children's House Southwell Back to Basics

Research will also tell you that it’s even beneficial to read to very young babies as the physical contact of curling up for a story and the rhythmic sound of the words is comforting to them.

Babies coo and babble and try to imitate the sounds and rhythms of adult words. They also try to imitate facial expressions and gestures and they love rhymes and interactive songs; all of which offer the basics of language development.

So how about we all go back to basics and spend some time reading stories?

It must be said that at around 4-6 months, a thick board book might be more interesting to your child for chewing and offering relief from teething pain but by sharing stories together they will eventually start to understand that words carry meaning.

Even from a young age children will start to pay attention to the pictures and will recognise familiar objects and will help to turn the pages. Thick board books are more suitable at this age to enable physical dexterity to develop by the page turning and over time fine motor skills improve so they are able to manage thinner paper books.  The next stage might be to point to and name objects on the pages or perhaps they will start bringing books to you to be read. A child might start to fill in and recite familiar passages; they might sit and ‘read’ to themselves.

Nursery Storytime The Children's House Southwell

You might notice around this time that a child recognises visual clues and ‘’reads’’ the environment print. For example, when you are in the car or walking about, they know that the red sign means stop. This isn’t because they can read the word but because they read the symbol.

That considered, you can see that learning to read is a sequential process; each new skill builds on the mastery of previously learned skills. The repetitiveness of wanting a favourite story over and over again helps with this sequencing and builds attention span- what may seem repetitive to you is certainly not for your child.

Asking your child questions about the pictures, the objects, the story will lead to a deeper understanding and increases vocabulary and comprehension.

This is not just an activity for home; your child’s caregivers – whether these be grandparents, child-minders, nursery staff or library staff  can (and hopefully do) use this simple and valuable learning tool.

In groups, children can act out parts of the story to increase engagement, the story teller can use different voices – a low whisper, a high pitched voice, a louder and more gritty tone etc – and it’s important to do so. Being enthusiastic and a little bit OTT makes the experience better.  Go all out and use some dramatic eye rolling or even some movement will change the energy. A lively story can energise, whilst a calm and quiet story can aid settling down for a sleep.

For children that don’t like bedtime (and I know there are a lot out there) it’s important to have a good bedtime routine. The story and cuddling indicates that you are winding down for bed and therefore sleep – a great habit to start from a very young age.

Finally, children copy from what they see so let your child see you with books, be it reading or writing (and not just using the laptop and phone.) Use the library and exchange some books with friends to develop an environment rich with print and watch your child flourish.

So, how about switching off the mobile phone, the TV, the laptop and the tablet and make storytime a family affair where everyone joins in?  Nothing is more important than getting back to basics and sharing those special moments together.

You will be giving your child the most amazing gift there is … the foundations of learning.

It’s these moments in life that I like to call ‘heart sparkle moments’.

Karen O’Connell