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Once Upon a Family: Tips for Reading and Storytelling with Young Children

It’s official, longer working hours, the decline of extended family and other demanding commitments have taken over crucial time modern families spend together. As a result, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies less than 50% of children are read to by a family member on a daily basis and one in 5 children are not read to at all.
The trend is alarming. Apart from the social changes in the family structure and the increased work load, ‘fast’ children’s literature/music/toys and other merchandise – cheap, sometimes low quality and tied in to popular children’s TV characters, – continue to flood the market. Unfortunately, these products do little to fire children’s imagination. Children’s psychologists and educators can’t emphasise enough the importance of developing language, imagination and vocabulary of young children as they are the building blocks of reading and writing. They also promote school success in subjects like social studies and science. Reading and storytelling play a vital role in helping children become lifelong readers and learners and most importantly feel part of the ‘intellectual’ world later in life. So it’s time for parents and schools to get serious about providing young children with literacy opportunities that help them achieve the full participation in modern society in the age of visual display. Here are some ideas, practical tips and food for thought:

Children should be exposed to both, story reading and storytelling, as they were found to produce positive gains in oral language development. A US study indicates that young children who heard stories told demonstrated improved story comprehension in their retelling, while children in a story reading group improved their language complexity.
Rhyme books are particularly valuable as they form pattern recognition and early phonics skills. Interestingly, UK research found that schools with a consistent and structured programme of teaching phonics did best. The report also found that the quicker children were taught sounds, the better.

Great Books to check out:

There was an old lady who swallowed the sea
There Was an Old Lady
Our Cat Cuddles By Gervase Phinn
Five Little Men in a Flying Saucer
One Odd Old Owl
The House that Jack Built
Ten Little Monkeys
I am the Music Man
This Old Man

Bringing stories to life with toys, music, puppets, craft/art ideas and games is a versatile method that turns reading from a chore into something pleasurable and exciting. The possibilities, in terms of design, objectives, target audience and ‘ingredients’ are truly limitless. Using Braille, smells, and even tastes, for instance, helps children with additional needs visualize and get involved with the stories. Check out our collection of puppets, books and storysacks.
Consider choosing books and stories that stimulate further discussion and are relevant to children’s currents interests and hobbies.
Complementing stories with nonfiction books expands knowledge and understanding of the topic.
Going hi-tech with storytelling/reading by using weblogs (instead of paper diary) and forums to communicate, share and exchange relevant links can appeal to many technology savvy parents and kids and is suitable for older children.
Don’t underestimate your local librarians’ expertise and advice when planning on your next reading list. The best part of it is it’s FREE.
Organising reading and storytelling around one topic per week allows gaining knowledge and understanding of particular concept/topic/period/place in greater depth. Suggested topics for early childhood:

Colours and Shapes
Creepy Crawlies
Community helpers
Health and Fitness
Fairies, Magic & Fantasy
Your own child’s up-to-date interests.

Engaging with other children-focused families to share kids’ favourite books/stories helps you stay within a budget and have access to children-tested resources.
Setting up a reading/learning center in the playroom where children can relax with a book, listen to a story on the CD creates consistence with your effort to help your kids learn.
Numerous research proves reading parents contribute to children’s interest in reading.
Starting ‘learning diaries’ to record child’s progress will provide parents with structure, purpose and reflection opportunities.
Staying in touch with the school reading programme and expanding on it is a perfect combination leading to sparking an enthusiasm for reading for purpose and pleasure.
Subscribing to a periodic children’s publication, online or hard copy, turns reading into a natural anticipating habit. There are a few note-worthy magazines published in the USA and the UK, as well as Australia. Check out: (for parents and educators about children’s books)
The time families spend together and the quality of this time are crucial. Even though many parents do experience time pressure, slowing down, assessing the situation and revaluating the priorities in families’ current arrangements/commitments have a long term benefit for children and parents as their first teachers. As a recent Centre for Community and Child Health study suggests ‘there are very strong links between literacy, school performance, self-esteem, and life chances. Poor literacy skills are associated with generally lower education, earnings, health and social outcomes as well as being linked to high rates of unemployment, welfare dependence and teenage parenting’. Including regular reading and storytelling for learning and pleasure creates a ‘thinking’ generation capable of making a difference.

Learn more about reading initiatives: (Australia) (USA) (Scotland) (UK)


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