We’re hearing more and more lately about the importance of reading to and with children and its impact on language and literacy. While more concrete evidence now exists regarding the impact on a child’s cognitive skills and the associated flow-on effects throughout their lives, it has been no secret that reading to and with children is a good idea. However, an abundance of technology, combined with the increasingly busy lives of families, mean that many simply aren’t finding the time – and it may not be a coincidence that we’re witnessing sub-standard levels of literacy in Australian children.

So, in a world of apps, where virtually anything is available at the touch of a screen, why would you open a book?

It’s simple: Some things are irreplaceable.

Reading a story to a child (or having them read to you) is an interactive experience – it’s designed to be shared between two or more people. Giving a child your time and attention is a self-esteem building experience; and humans were simply designed to interact with others. This could be in a group setting (such as story time between a teacher and their class) or more personal (a bedtime story with a parent or carer). In both scenarios, the child is benefiting from this interaction; and it’s a special, memorable experience. “My life and my kids’ lives are so busy,” says Tiffany Lee, entrepreneur and mum of three, “but reading a story together before bed is our wind-down time – the kids love it, so it’s a relaxing time for me too.”

Language development is also strengthened during these interactions. Children broaden their vocabulary by hearing new words and understanding their meaning in the context of the story. The verbal communication involved in reading a story also demonstrates the correct pronunciation of words and the phonemes (individual sounds) which comprise them.

Imagination is also a major factor in story time. Asking children to make inferences about the story or illustrations – such as “Does he look happy or sad? Why do you think that is?”; or “What do think will happen next?” – help to develop not only a child’s imagination but also their critical thinking skills. They are developing an understanding of not only what is happening in the story, but why. “I love the look on the children’s faces when I’m introducing a great story book,” says Stacey Weiser, who has been teaching Ready to Read classes for more than a decade. “Story time is one of my favourite parts of the lesson, because you see their little eyes light up and you know you’re unlocking another piece of the imaginative, inquisitive person they will become – it’s very special.”
Concepts about print are another advantage of reading to and with a child which otherwise can be missed. These concepts include the knowledge that words are comprised of letters; that words have meaning and make sentences; that sentences start with capitals and end with a full stop; and that we read from left to right. These explicit teachings are harder to understand without exposure to story books, but are essential to the skill of reading (and writing).

Finally, our access to quality literature is abundant – there are so many rich, quality texts to discover, many of which are penned and illustrated here in Australia. Making the most of the privilege of access to quality literature, which so many around the world don’t have, is an opportunity we should grasp as much as we can.

So, next time you put down the devices and spend ten minutes enjoying a book with a child, know that you’re doing so much more than reading a story. You’re helping to create a nation of more confident, more imaginative, more proficient individuals.


Michelle Mowbray is a Hills District Mum and Director of Ready to Read, a unique, research-based early literacy program for 3-6 year old children. Designed primarily for the year before school, Ready to Read has been helping children across Sydney start school with confidence since 2001.

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