The benefits of the bedtime story

FOR many young children, pre-school is their first introduction to books.

So says Teresa Heeney, CEO of Early Childhood Ireland, who also points to a statistic from an Easons survey— one in five parents in Ireland never read to their children.

For Heeney, parental reading to children ties in with one of the most important roles a parent plays in a child’s life. “The parent relationship is the single most important relationship for a child. It’s within this relationship children seek to understand their world. Reading to them and engaging them in conversation about the books you’re reading provides a wonderful context in which they can begin to understand their world.”

She cites recent US research which found that by age three, children in disadvantaged families may have heard 30 million fewer words than more privileged children. “The Irish Department of Education produced a strategy that talks about how children acquire oral language competence and maths language and ideas. It places front and centre parents’ role in children’s achievement of these languages.”

Heeney says the advent of screen-based apps for children is not helping the reading population in Ireland and says TV is no substitute for sitting down reading with a child, looking at the pictures and having a conversation about the book. “Many parents are intrigued at seeing how their young children relate to apps and screen-based games — the time would be much better spent on an old-fashioned book.”

As well as providing enhanced opportunities for language acquisition and for learning how the world works, Heeney adds: “It’s a wonderful way for the child to wind down after the day. They feel secure, confident and more attuned to the parent— so they’re ready to tell about what happened during their day.”

She recommends joining your local library and letting your child roam around it to see the huge expanse of books available for a bedtime story. Do it weekly and let him choose his bedtime story for that week. “Immediately, the bedtime story becomes a thing to anticipate; the excitement builds up.”

You can also utilise the library’s willingness to take requests for books they don’t have in stock. Your child’s afraid of the dark or there’s a new baby on the way or he’s learning to brush his teeth? Your librarian will be happy to source an appropriate book. “With every story, children seek meaning – they use it to interpret other situations they’re in.”

Tips for bedtime reading 

* First, read the book yourself to get a feel for its rhythm.

* Hold book so child can see illustrations while you’re reading.

* Choose age-appropriate books that you enjoy too — so child hears joy of reading in your voice.

* Read with expression so as to engage child in the story.

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