Book time to make a difference to your child

CCCH Director, Professor Frank Oberklaid, has written an opinion piece on the benefits of reading with children from an early age. His piece was published in the Herald Sun on 31 January 2017. Read his article below.

baby-grandad-reading-newspost020217It is said that play is the work of young children. Play helps satisfy their natural curiosity, encourages exploration and stimulates their imagination. And they learn about their world, about social relationships, about limits and self-regulation.

I went to the opening of Melbourne Museum’s Children’s Gallery, designed to be a place of wonder for children — exposing them to a range of learning activities carefully crafted for their age and developmental stage. There was an excited commotion and buzz about the place, children calling out to their parents and peers to share their discoveries.

A little away from the areas of frenetic activity was a quiet place filled with books and nooks where children could continue to explore and imagine, but through books.

Some older children, preschoolers, were “reading” their own books, turning the pages and looking at pictures and creating their own stories. There were many parents in chairs and beanbags reading to a child on their lap.

Reading to children stimulates their imagination, nurtures their curiosity and opens their eyes to different worlds of stories, nature, animals, not to mention colours, letters and numbers.

Reading books or telling stories helps children deal with emotions such as the anxiety that they may feel at the dentist or beginning preschool, or helping them to understand the death of a pet or relative, or parental separation.

Children who are read to daily from an early age will come to love that special activity with parents, and so come to love books.

But reading to young children has many other benefits; in fact, it is one of the best activities parents can do to with their child. In the same way that vaccinating your child protects them against infections, reading to your child may help protect them from later learning problems at school.

Let me explain why this is so.

The foundations for reading are laid down well before children start school. These pre-literacy skills include: knowing the alphabet and recognising letters and numbers; understanding that each letter has a sound and that combinations of letters have different sounds that make up words; and then coming to realise that print has meaning.

These are skills that are not acquired automatically: they have to be taught. Building foundational or pre-literacy skills is one of the important things that children learn in preschool or kindergarten, but parents can help their child get the best start by reading to them every day from soon after birth.

Infants and toddlers will enjoy this special time — on your lap, hearing the sound of your voice, looking at books with colours and pictures. As they get older they will anticipate that special time each day — being close, pointing to pictures, turning the pages.

Toddlers like repetition and will often bring a favourite book to you to read. They will enjoy alphabet books and get a sense of achievement when asked to point to an object, a letter, or a number.

Children who are read to daily from an early age will come to love that special activity with parents, and so come to love books.

Daily reading stimulates a child’s language development.

Reading with children exposes them to new words and amplifies language development. Talk with your child about what you have read, ask them questions, and listen to their answers. Pause as you are reading to them and ask them to fill in a missing word, or have fun by asking them to mimic the sounds that animals make.

Research has shown that the more words a child is exposed to in the early years, the more likely it is that they will have a solid foundation for future learning. Daily reading creates a language-rich environment that stimulates the child’s language development.

There are other things you can do to help lay the foundations for reading and school success.

Join a library, or consider giving books as birthday or Christmas presents or for no reason at all.

Point out street signs and ask the child to say the letters out loud.

Let's Read logoVisit the Let’s Read website ( where you can download recommended books for the various age groups, along with reading tips and tools.

Reading to your child every day is one of the best things you can do to make sure your child gets the best start in life.

What’s more, it is so enjoyable for parents too; is there anything better than having your child snuggle close to you as you share an activity together?

Professor Frank Oberklaid, Director of the Centre for Community Child Health.


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