ONCE UPON A TIME…

What­ever the story, just cud­dling up and read­ing to your baby is ben­e­fi­cial for both of you

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

How read­ing ben­e­fits your child

Most mums love snug­gling up with their lit­tlie for a bed­time story or two in the quiet of the evening. But most of us will also ad­mit that, af­ter a long and busy day, with your mind fo­cused on what’s still on your to-do list rather than the page right in front of you, it’s in­cred­i­bly tempt­ing to speed through the words or – yes, we’ve all done it – skip a page or two. How­ever, read­ing your child a bed­time story has ben­e­fits beyond set­tling him and act­ing as a cue for sleep. In fact, those few min­utes are more valu­able than you might think.

Sue Palmer, lit­er­ary ex­pert and au­thor

of Toxic Child­hood: How the Mod­ern World is Dam­ag­ing our Chil­dren and What We Can Do About It (Ha­chette, $19.95), says that most chil­dren learn through rep­e­ti­tion, and read­ing a story at bed­time is the per­fect place to put this into ac­tion. “Re­peat­ing the words of a favourite book lays down neu­ral net­works in your child’s brain and helps to em­bed lan­guage pat­terns, vo­cab­u­lary and mem­ory,” Sue ex­plains.

Re­search has shown that 75 per cent of brain de­vel­op­ment hap­pens in the first two years of life. Sci­en­tists have found a dif­fer­ence in neu­ro­log­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in the brains of chil­dren who are read to, and the brains of those who aren’t.

A study at the Univer­sity of New York con­cluded that read­ing in an in­ter­ac­tive style to your bub raises his IQ by six points. So, as you read, ask age-ap­pro­pri­ate ques­tions while look­ing at the pic­tures to­gether. Talk about de­tails such as colours and use silly voices to bring char­ac­ters to life. As your tot gets older, en­cour­age him to tell you what he sees.

“Pic­tures pro­vide the cues so he can tell you the story,” Sue says. When you read to your tot, you stim­u­late his au­di­tory cor­tex – the part of his brain that han­dles sound. “A baby finds rhythmic lan­guage in a book very com­fort­ing,” says Sue. “He be­gins to un­der­stand the struc­ture and pat­tern of lan­guage. Know­ing how a sen­tence sounds be­comes in­tu­itive.” So, when you read a book with rhythmical text, such as Each Peach Pear Plum, make sure you ex­ag­ger­ate the sounds of the words to em­pha­sise the rhythm.

Read­ing a story ev­ery night ex­poses your lit­tle one to a range of lan­guage he might not oth­er­wise hear, at a mo­ment when he’s very re­cep­tive to learn­ing.

Re­search from The Univer­sity of Sh­effield in the UK shows chil­dren soak up the most in­for­ma­tion just be­fore they go to sleep. The more lan­guage sounds your baby hears, the faster he will be able to process them. And books in­tro­duce many words which your tot won’t come across in every­day life.

Build life skills Read­ing to­gether has been shown to en­hance con­cen­tra­tion. A 20-year long ex­per­i­ment at Ore­gon State Univer­sity in the US found that tod­dlers who are bet­ter at con­cen­trat­ing were 50 per cent more likely to get a univer­sity de­gree later in life. For a tod­dler, lift-up flaps will keep him in­volved and in­ter­ested as he hunts for Spot the dog in Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill (Pen­guin, $24.99).

Shared read­ing also pro­motes logic and un­der­stand­ing. “Sto­ries en­cour­age chil­dren to think in straight lines, be­cause there is al­ways a be­gin­ning, a middle and an end,” ex­plains Sue. “You need to be able to think in straight lines to think log­i­cally.”

When you’re in­trepidly ex­plor­ing the dark wood in The Gruf­falo, the story stim­u­lates your child’s imag­i­na­tion. “When a child lis­tens to an imag­i­na­tive story, he con­jures fas­ci­nat­ing pic­tures in his head,” says Sue. “That doesn’t hap­pen when he watches a story on screen.”

And with­out you – or your tot – re­al­is­ing it, you are teach­ing your lit­tle one how to use a book. He will learn that those squig­gles on the page rep­re­sent sounds. If you run your fin­ger along the text, he will be­gin to un­der­stand that you read from top to bottom, left to right. If he helps turn the pages, he’ll learn how a book works. “You’re set­ting your child up to read for him­self one day,” says Sue. Feel-good fun An en­ter­tain­ing story al­lows even a very young lis­tener to de­velop his emo­tional un­der­stand­ing as he in­ter­prets events beyond his own im­me­di­ate ex­pe­ri­ence. Mak­ing an emo­tional con­nec­tion can help a child learn em­pa­thy and com­pas­sion for oth­ers.

Re­search car­ried out at the Univer­sity of Sus­sex in the UK has shown that the way mums talk to their young chil­dren about feel­ings and be­liefs in­flu­ences their so­cial skills later in life. Books can re­ally help these dis­cus­sions.

“Books will help you pass on your val­ues to your child,” says Sue. To help your lit­tle one con­nect with the char­ac­ters, ask ques­tions and talk about what is hap­pen­ing and how ev­ery­one might be feel­ing. Boost your bond And, of course, that sleepy, snug­gly story is the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to fos­ter the emo­tional bond be­tween you and your baby. “When you read a story to your child, you give him your time and fo­cus your at­ten­tion on him, and he in turn gives his at­ten­tion to you,” says Sue.

Read­ing to your bub in an in­ter­ac­tive style raises his IQ.

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