By Catriona Elek, Project Coordinator
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx
Books are wonderful companions. This week we are celebrating books and reading, because it’s National Book Week from the Children’s Book Council of Australia!
But what do books and reading have to do with child health?
Literacy skills affect the opportunities we have in life for education, employment, income – and for health and wellbeing. That’s why giving every child the chance to build a great foundation for literacy skills is so important.
At the moment, Australians’ literacy skills are not great. Almost half of Australians aged 15 to 74 do not have the literacy skills they need to meet the demands of everyday life and work.
We want to change that. We know that the years from birth to age five are critical for building the foundation for literacy skills, which kids will need for great lives. That way, when they start school, kids can be ready to learn to read and write, and they can be on track with their peers.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
– Dr. Seuss
Build the foundations for literacy skills
The ability to speak develops naturally, but learning to read and write – for most kids – only happens with the right experiences and support.
We want to help all children and families to build a love of books, stories and reading. We’re not trying to teach kids to read and write before they start school – with a love of books, stories and reading, kids develop what are known as ‘emergent literacy’ skills. These skills include things like knowing the alphabet, the sounds that make up words, playing with language and rhymes, knowing which way up to hold books, and how to turn the pages. With supportive and literacy-rich environments, kids have the best chance to develop these skills.
Build a love of books and stories
Sharing stories is probably the most important activity families can undertake to enhance their child’s future literacy skills. There is no magic number for how often or how much time to spend reading with children, or what age babies should be when you start. Sharing a story or reading a book can become part of the routine; anywhere, anytime is great!
For babies - it’s never too early
Story time can be a special time for new babies, right from birth. In story time, babies hear a voice that they already know and love, hear the rhythms of language, and enjoy the feeling of being held close.
Books can also be a baby’s first toys. By playing with or even chewing on a book, babies start to learn about what books are. Books with textures or flaps are lots of fun for babies, from as early as four months old.
Books and reading are not the only way to build strong literacy foundations though. Words are everywhere! Sharing stories might mean looking together at the words and letters that are all around – on street signs, packaging, t-shirts and more. Not being a confident reader is no reason not to share a story or sing a song together. Families can talk about the pictures in books, tell stories and sing songs – it all helps.
Join a library – it’s free, and story time and rhyme time sessions can be great fun.
For toddlers and pre-schoolers - It’s never too late, either
Even if you haven’t read much with baby, it’s never too late to start to share books and stories with toddlers and pre-schoolers. Sharing books and stories is a special time, and it can give families lots of things to enjoy together, talk and laugh about.
Toddlers and pre-schoolers often especially love books and stories that have rhyme, rhythm and repetition. Playing with rhymes is a great way to build awareness of the sounds that make up words. Families can share books that have fun rhymes, or simply talk and sing together.
Great characters and storylines are important too, choose books or stories that capture a child’s imagination. This can be a fun way to link books and stories with make-believe games. For example, families could draw a picture, sing a song about the book, or act out a scene together about favourite characters. They could eat all the fruits The Very Hungry Caterpillar eats, for example (That’s just one of the books we suggest for this age group).
Tips for reading with young children: http://www.letsread.com.au/Families/Reading-tips-and-tools
Parenting in Pictures: http://www.letsread.com.au/Families/Reading-tips-and-tools/Parenting-in-...
About Let’s Read
Let’s Read is a national, evidence-based early literacy initiative to promote reading in early childhood.
Let’s Read aims to develop and generate national, integrated early years literacy promotion and support activities so all children gain the foundation skills for subsequent language, literacy and learning success. Based on research evidence, Let’s Read’s vision is for all Australian children to share books, stories, songs and nursery rhymes every day from birth with the important people in their lives.
Since 2005, Let’s Read’s early literacy program has been delivered in more than 100 disadvantaged communities across seven Australian states and territories, with over 200,000 children participating in the program.
Let’s Read was developed by the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and The Royal Children’s Hospital. The Murdoch Children's Research Institute and The Smith Family have partnered to implement Let’s Read with communities across Australia.
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