Reading with your child

By admin
05 April 2014

Finding joy and fun with words and pictures is something parents can start doing with their children from a young age.

One of the best ways to get young children interested in storytelling and reading is to make it an activity they can look forward to. Those precious minutes spent together also help to build a stronger bond between the parent and child.

Stories develop children’s imagination and creativity, their language ability and thinking, and help them to see how people around them deal with challenges in their lives. Children who love books and stories also tend to do well at school.

Children need to read for fun instead of performance, says Sandra Land, a reading expert and lecturer in the education department of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“Some parents are under the mistaken belief that reading from a young age is a waste of time as preparation for school, that teaching kids to read is best left to qualified teachers and that it is an activity that should focus solely on making sure children understand their schoolwork,” she says.

As a result of time constraints, many parents tend to focus mainly on making their child read prescribed reading material.

And when there’s too much focus on correcting or punishing children for their mistakes instead of praising their interest and understanding, reading can soon become a negative experience for both the parent and child. “We need to read with our kids just to have some fun together,” encourages Sandra.

Reading for fun needs to become a habit. Once children have enjoyable storytelling experiences at home, they’re more likely to be motivated to read, says Carole Bloch, director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) at the University of Cape Town, who last year launched Nal’ibali, a nationwide reading-for-fun initiative.

“Parents should focus on first using the language they and their children speak so they don’t miss out on the knowledge and rich vocabulary of their mother tongue,” Carole emphasises.

Developing a love for reading

Parents or grannies don’t need a high level of literacy to read with their little ones, says reading expert Sandra Land. “They can use a magazine, look at the pictures and talk about them,” she says.

Sandra offers the following tips:

  • Make reading with your children something you yourself look forward to. Start a bedtime ritual from a young age. “Help your child develop a love for books,” says Sandra.
  • Find a special place in the house to read a book for as much time as your child can handle. With young children it’s more important to read to them than getting the child to read to you.
  • When your child reads to you, look for ways to praise their progress. Say “You’re doing so well,” when the child makes an effort to read. “After all, you wouldn’t come down hard on a child who makes a mistake when learning to walk so don’t be hard on them when they make mistakes when reading,” Sandra explains.
  • Visit a public library or borrow books from family and friends or even your child’s cre`che. Make the library trip a fun activity your child can look forward to.

Reading for different ages

Start reading with your baby even before they start talking, encourages education expert Carole Bloch. “You can also start a reading club in your community to get children reading,” she suggests.

Here are some expert tips:

Babies to three years:

  • Read a little at a time, but often. Books with pictures and words to learn the names for things and also nursery rhymes are useful in helping children make associations.
  • Find books with boards, cloth or fabrics that children can touch without spoiling or can even read in the bath.
  • Read the words to your child, talk about what’s in the pictures and name some of the objects and colours. Remember to make lots of interesting sounds too – for example, “mooing” when you look at a picture of a cow.
  • Encourage the child to chime in with bits that are repeated in the stories. For example, “I think I can,” or “Run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man.”
  • Ask simple questions like, “Who is that?” “Where is he?” and “What is that?” and be patient while they answer. Children love find- ing things in pictures, so have fun looking with them.

Three to six years:

  • Start introducing a bigger variety of books to your child. Try to read the title of the book and the name of the author and illustrator each time you read a book to your little ones.
  • The first time you read a book with your children, ask if they can guess what it might be about from listening to the title and looking at the illustration on the cover of the book.
  • Read with as much expression as you can, even if you feel strange doing it. Add voices for the different characters
  • Ask questions as you go along or at the end of the book. For example, “What do you think happens next?” or, “What would you have done in that situation?”
  • Repeat your child’s favourite stories as of- ten as they ask and invite them to read along as they get to know the stories.

Six to nine years:

  • Try to match books with where your child is in their literacy development and interests.
  • As your children learn to read for themselves, create opportunities for them to read to you or their younger siblings and take turns reading aloud to each other.
  • You can now introduce chapter reading to older children and try to read a chapter a day.

Six to 12 years:

  • Books with fables or traditional stories and illustrations are suitable for late starters or reluctant readers.
  • Once the child is reading regularly, you can introduce short novels with simple plots. Also share other reading material such as poems, newspapers, magazine articles and material downloaded from the internet.
  • Even when your child can read well, he or she will still benefit from listening to you read, so don’t stop reading to your child until he or she is ready.

Top tip

Fifteen minutes of reading a day can expose children to one million written words a year.


For more info

Parents can find Nal’ibali reading supplements (stories and activities) in English, isiZulu and isiXhosa in Times Media newspapers in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. For more tips, visit their website: Jacana publishes books for young readers in all 11 official languages. For more information on titles and prices visit or call 011-628-3200.

New Readers Publishers publish easy-to-read books in all 11 official South African languages. Get more information from their website or call 031-260-2568.

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