My earliest memories are of bedtime stories; first as an only child snuggled up with mum, then later as big sister hanging over the top bunk to see the pictures. It was a magical time, those last special moments before I dozed off to sleep would feed my dreams with faraway lands and mystical beings, with fantastic adventures and a sense that anything was possible. I remember that feeling as I saw those black squiggles on paper. They were the magic, the secret door to enchanted worlds and I wanted nothing more than to learn how to read them.
My mum taught me to read well before school age and it was no surprise I was soon reading everything I could get my hands on. My young life was one of adventure and fantasy that flowed through my imagination from books to my play. I grew up with talking animals and fairies as friends and feared the wicked witch and the wolf in the wood. This was a childhood habit I never grew out of – my choice of books changed but the magic never died. I rarely go a day without reading.
Quite by accident, or maybe just fate, I ended up in a career teaching basic English to adults. As part of my course introduction I find out a little about each new student and almost without fail, I find that the poorest learners:
- Did not have bedtime stories read to them as children
- Never had books in the house while growing up
- Struggled with literacy in school
- Have no interest in reading for pleasure as adults
- Do / did not read to their own children
The strongest learners gave the opposite answers. Those who grew up with a love of reading consistently did better with their school studies and this was clearly displayed in the quality of their work on my course.
As a new mum I was so excited about the prospect of reading to my baby. I was desperate to share with her my own love of reading and do as my own mum had done. I was also mindful of the huge impact this would have on her education but my emphasis has always been on reading for fun.
Our nursery was filled with children’s books long before we bought the sensible baby stuff and my mum’s house was just the same. I shared picture books with my baby from the time she could open her eyes. It was a fabulous experience which helped with bonding and gave focus to my ramblings as she listened to my voice. As she got older and more able to focus, this became our special time and she never tired of having her favourites read over and over.
Now I have three daughters, each shares the same enjoyment of stories and when placed in a room full of toys, will always head for the pile of books. Even the littlest will read out loud to her sisters, reciting the words she knows off by heart.
I have watched their progress with the pride of a mother and the interest of a teacher. Every parent sees their own child as a genius, and I am no different, but my girls always surpassed their milestones with speech and their vocabulary, they were excited to learn their letters from a young age and my eldest has learnt to read and write quite effortlessly. All three have amazing imaginations, and like I did, they bring their story characters to life through their play. I know most of the credit lies with our fabulous nursery and primary teachers but I also know that giving them access to books and promoting a love of reading has played a huge part in their development.
In my experience as a parent and a teacher, I have witnessed the huge advantages early reading has on shaping a child’s mind. The benefits are too numerous to name but the best of all is seeing the delight on their faces when it is story time. So read to your children, expand their world to one of adventure and excitement and know that you are instilling a love of learning in the most wonderful way.
Original artwork by Christine Southworth @bearprintstudio