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Posted by Kate, June 17, 2015

How to read to babies and toddlers

Earlier this week, I was on the bus travelling to work (I’d left the bike at the office the previous day to go to the recording studio). At St Thomas’s Hospital, a woman got on with her toddler, a little girl, who was around 18 months old.

The toddler was able to understand a lot, it seemed, but had limited speech of her own.

The mum read the toddler Each Peach Pear Plum, and I wished I’d been able to video it (I mean, I guess I could have used my phone, but it would have looked odd). That mum just read to that toddler so brilliantly that I felt a bit lumpy-throaty: if only all toddlers were read to so well, it would be the best possible introduction to the pleasure of reading.

Here’s why I thought her reading was so exemplary:

She read slowly but with a lot of expression and enthusiasm.

She gave the child the chance to complete the lines. “Mother Hubbard in the cellar. I spy…” The child gave their own version of the word, which sometimes bore a recognisable (to me) resemblance to the word in the book, but the mum was positive about every attempt by the child… before reading the word (“Cinderella”) out properly. Of course, the fact that this book is in rhyme supported the child here – I’ve written about rhyming books here – but you can do this with prose texts too if the child knows them. I remember my children finishing the sentences in Sarah Garland’s board books when they were babies.

She gave the child the chance to turn the page, but if the child didn’t, she turned it for them.

After she’d read the text on each spread, she encouraged the child to find things in the pictures (“Where’s Baby Bear?), but, if the child didn’t seem interested, she moved on, so the pace, spread to spread, was varied.

She offered to read the book again.

I guess, to most of the people reading this blog, reading in this way to a child on the cusp of spoken language might come easily, so apologies if this is an egg-sucking tutorial. But to many parents, it doesn’t. I remember trying to encourage a mum with a toddler in a supermarket in Wigan to join their library as part of a Bookstart programme who said, “He can’t read! He’s only two years’ old.” Lots of babies and children aren’t read to at all, let alone read to well.

The benefits of reading to babies are well rearched and documented, not least by Bookstart.

To see it done well still makes me really happy.

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