I know a tiny bit about early childhood development from my dear friend Miss L, who is a kindergarten teacher and the mother of two amazing little girls. Before I had my daughter, Miss L would tell me all sorts of funny little things her daughter was up to developmentally. My brain was always quick to tune in, I asked a lot of questions and I honestly enjoyed hearing about her strategies for settling, the wonders of breastfeeding and her endless patience with implementing new distraction techniques. I guess I thought I might need that information one day so I stored it all safely in the back files of my brain and I was so relieved that I managed to unlock most of it when my little tornado of a child, Miss Mimi, arrived. Entering our lives six weeks early and refusing to sleep through the night for any more than a total of four nights in eleven months, Miss Mimi was rather lucky I remembered her name let alone the little morsels of helpful advice I had been told.
But luckily, like most things, parenting can be learned from others. People that have been there before you, your friends, your parents, authors and at 2am – Google. A lot of people told me what they thought I needed to know about parenting whether I asked for advice or not but like most of you, my mummy apprenticeship was a disturbing amount of trial and error. I have no expertise on the subject of babies or children in any way but what I did find out for myself very early on was how enjoyable reading aloud to Miss Mimi was. Through the fog of sleep deprivation, it was our thing, our emerging tradition but the most important part was that she seemed to really enjoy it. At the time I had no idea of the benefits of reading aloud, I just liked doing it.
Maybe it’s the actress in me or the fact that I don’t mind the sound of my own voice, but I love reading aloud. I love that at just a few weeks of age, I made it my daughter’s routine to read a story every single time before we danced the dance of fighting sleep. The thousands of loving memories I have of us huddled close and rediscovering a much loved book will be with me always. Though, if we’re honest, I may have fallen into reading aloud more than expected because Miss Mimi had so many false starts of falling asleep and staying that way that there were quite a lot of chances to read. But now that she is three and is reading some words by herself, making up her own stories and impressing me every day with her expanding vocabulary, I know that I have given her the best chance to become an excited lifelong learner.
Every night Miss Mimi and I read about troubled characters finding their way in stories. We cheer for the underdog and relish in his triumph, so she shows a lot of empathy and compassion in her everyday life. We laugh at ridiculous stories and we play games with each other to see who can find the word “sheep” first on every page in Mem Fox’s “Where is the green Sheep?” We even follow Mem Fox’s “10 read-aloud commandments” (which, when your number one rule is to have a wildly happy time reading, who wouldn’t want to follow it?) I notice how much longer her attention span is becoming, her memory recall is sharp and I am aware that she can follow multiple instructions easily.
Now think about this; long before she is able to make sense of the print on the page she will have a fine understanding of the rhythm and the intonations of our language. She will understand sentence structure and all the while she is learning to read simply just by listening.
I am no teacher and I don’t aim to “teach” her reading, but she is learning to read, from me! Knowing how easy it is blows my mind and I wish every parent was let in on what seems to be a secret to new every day mums like me. I wish I had known the proven benefits long before I started to research it for myself; I would have read-aloud more!
I now work as an independent advisor with The Learning Ladder. So I get to tell parents about the benefits of reading aloud. I get to help parents choose gorgeous books to read aloud to their children and pick games that make learning fun! I do this by demonstrating educational products that help our kids get crazy about learning. I do this in people’s homes as party plan and I am so lucky because I love what I do. You can contact me to ask questions about having me show you our range at your home, run fundraisers to help your kinder or school get their hands on more books and games or help me to help others by doing what I do. You can view our online catalogue and have an order posted straight to your door through me if you like.
But if the only thing you do after reading this is snuggle up with your child to have another magical read-aloud session, then I will be more than happy with that too.