I recently came across a statistic about how many hours per week people read in different countries of the world. Perhaps not surprisingly the UK ranked fairly lowly on this chart, with the average person reading only around 5 hours per week compared with people in India, which was ranked at the top, reading double at over 10 hours per week. This saddened me because as the meme that hangs above my front door states, my home is built on love, laughter, books, cups of tea, and biscuits!

There are so many benefits for children who engage with stories that it is difficult to list them all. Listening to stories helps to develop children’s listening and attention skills as well as assists with their hearing language sounds, which will help them to learn to read in the future. However, storytelling is also about language, extending and understanding vocabulary, and the magical worlds that children can enter through stories. This imaginative and creative side is a wonderful resource and during a pandemic, who doesn’t need a little escapism?

Stories can also serve a more serious purpose because they can help children to develop empathy and consider the needs of others and we can introduce sensitive topics or explore different scenarios in a safe environment. There are so many wonderful books available to us which can help children to appreciate they are growing up in a diverse society and stories can even help them to understand the coronavirus and the importance of washing hands.

Research has also found that reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator for a child’s future success but sadly it also shares that reading for pleasure is in decline. Reading for as little as 10 minutes per day with a child can make all the difference, so let’s begin by doing this in our settings. With my own children literally being addicted to reading, I was reflecting upon how we fostered a passion for reading in our household. I think starting young was the key. Our children were surrounded by books from birth and we read stories to them, not just at bedtime, but at other times during the day. We sang songs and chanted rhymes whilst cleaning teeth or making breakfast and we made up stories about anything and everything. We always joked that when things went quiet in our house, rather than worry what they were up to, we would find our children reading under the table or in a home-made den!

I remember pushing the double buggy whilst walking to the shops, with my eldest walking along beside us and making up stories to help jolly the journey along… “It was a windy day, and three intrepid explorers, were going to buy some milk…” The formula was easy – I always began with a story beginning like ‘Once upon a time’, or ‘One day’, or ‘It was a windy day…’, then I stated what we were doing as a story… so my three children became the main characters in the stories and the narrative was following their lives, sharing everyday things like going to the park, shopping or simply walking to the post box.

Upon reflection, I used to read a lot too, I was role modelling reading for pleasure, but also in order to find out information. I was childminding when my children were little and I had displayed our house rules and the menu for the week on the fridge. We had a visual timetable with words and pictures on the wall and the boxes of toys and resources were labelled with photos and words. When we cooked together we read a recipe book with pictures and words aimed at preschool-aged-children. I had created a book corner in our playroom, which was a low bookcase with a bean bag and cushions with the sign “Come and read a book” and I regularly updated the children’s learning journeys with the children helping to stick in photographs while I wrote the captions. So print and opportunities for reading were everywhere, inside and outside. One of my favourite things to do when we had a spare 5 minutes was to read together.

There are lots of ways that we can engage children and make storytime fun and exciting. Firstly, create a language-rich environment and then choose your book or story carefully. Old favourites need to be revisited regularly because this repetition reinforces children’s language learning and offers feelings of safety and security. New stories can be exciting and with a little prior thought, can be enhanced with props or resources to make the story even better! One idea I love is to retell stories as sensory stories which is when you bring them to life, engaging with children’s senses. Although this technique is often used with children who have additional needs, sensory stories will be engaging for all children. So choose a book or story with opportunities for touch, smell, sound, taste and lots to look at, e.g. when telling the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, invite the children to smell and taste porridge (being aware of allergies), sit on different-sized chairs and feel a diverse range of textures of bedding… Also, remember to listen out for the bears returning…!

Additional ideas to make your storytime fun and engaging!

  • Allow children to choose the story, holding the book and turning the pages when possible
  • Read the book using funny voices for different characters
  • Always share the pictures and talk about these with the children
  • Choose stories and rhymes with repeated refrains and encourage the children to join in
  • Make books you have shared together available to be read and chosen throughout the session
  • Create props with the children to help tell their favourite stories, remember to engage all senses if possible
  • Re-vamp your book area to make it inviting, appealing with a range of high-quality books, props and good lighting
  • Choose stories that challenge stereotypes and represent our diverse society
  • Offer additional resources for storytelling, such as Tales Toolkit, story starter cards, a storyteller’s chair, story boxes, story sacks or costumes for book characters
  • Make storytime as interactive as possible, e.g. go on the ‘bear hunt’, or give children instruments to create the sound effects in the story
  • Use stories and rhymes throughout the day and daily routine, not just at storytime
  • Allow time when telling or reading stories for the narrative to be digested and allow more time to revisit the stories again and again
  • Remember that books should be everywhere in every aspect of your provision, inside and outside!

On Thursday 4th March it will be World Book Day which is run by a charity that promotes a love of books and reading for pleasure. Many schools and early years settings get involved and take part in initiatives like dressing up as a favourite character from a book. This year, although things may look a little different in our settings, we can still engage with this initiative and encourage our children to love books. In addition, we can encourage parents and carers to read with their children at home and could even set up a lending library to share books with families who may find it difficult to access them. Books can then be left in a box for 72 hours before being shared with the next family. I know of some settings that share books with their feeder primary schools, so that books like dual-language books can be used by more families who would really benefit from reading them. Not all families will have access to the books and resources that my children did when I was childminding. We must help parents to understand that any time they can spend, sharing books or stories with their children is time well spent, and if they’ve not managed to do much of it, that’s OK. Just suggest they open a book together and escape into a new world!

Top tips to foster a love of reading:

  1. Role model reading and finding out information from text and pictures, from the cereal box at breakfast time, to the road signs on your walk around the block.
  2. Find reading material that taps into children’s interests and fascinations.
  3. Choose books aimed at their age and stage of development and provide a wide variety of things to read, books, magazines, leaflets etc.
  4. Make books freely available and easy to access all the time.
  5. Embed stories and rhymes throughout the day as part of your daily routine.
  6. Lastly – have fun and open a world of books for our children!

About the author:

Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant, author and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and loving. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.

Tamsin has written four books – “Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children” , “School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning” , “Calling all Superheroes: Supporting and Developing Superhero Play in the Early Years” and “Developing a Loving Pedagogy in the Early Years: How Love Fits with Professional Practice”. She is currently working on her next two, “Supporting Behaviour and Emotions” and “Self-Regulation in Early Childhood”.

You can contact Tamsin via Twitter @tamsingrimmer, her Facebook pagewebsite or email tamsingrimmer@hotmail.co.uk

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