The benefits of reading

There are many advantages to introducing your baby to reading from an early age. When you read a book with your child, you can no doubt see how fascinating he finds this object. He looks at the book, he focuses on the illustrations or words you point to with your finger, he smiles when he hears your voice telling the story and he reacts when he recognizes something from his daily life in the book.

According to François Blain, an early literacy researcher and educator, reading stories to your child on a regular basis also helps him to develop skills that will get him ready for starting school. Sitting beside you, your child – without even realizing it – is discovering new words and the foundations of writing. As a result, when you read books to your little one, you’re helping him to:

  • familiarize himself with letters, colours, shapes and numbers;
  • learn the fundamentals of vocabulary and language;
  • gain a better understanding of the concepts of space and time (“once upon a time,” day, night, yesterday, tomorrow, here, there);
  • solve problems and form hypotheses (“What might happen to this character now?”);
  • structure his thoughts and narration (storytelling skills), which will help him in turn to describe what’s happening in his daily life;

When you read a book, follow each word with your finger. This simple action will show your child that the story is written down (and you aren’t making it up!), that each letter has a sound and that we read from left to right.

  • develop his ability to form relationships with others in a more organized, structured manner;
  • better grasp the concept of the permanent nature of writing, when you read the same story to him regularly. This will help him understand that what is written down remains the same from one time to the next;
  • develop his attention and listening skills;
  • put his memory to work, for example, when you ask him if he remembers the name of the main character or the colour of an animal in the story;
  • come to grips with his fears: a wolf or a spider is much less scary when it’s in a book! Your comforting presence during storytime will help him to express his feelings and find solutions for overcoming his fears;
  • develop his imagination by giving him an opportunity to discover a whole world of new and exciting things – some real and some totally made up – for him to have fun with!

When introduced early on, books become a source of enjoyment and fun. Children perceive them as representing a time of contentment and sharing with you. If the initial contact with books does not take place until school, the context is very different, as the message to the child is: “You must learn how to read.” Reading then becomes a task that has to be done, because in the child’s mind the association between books and fun is absent.

The limitations of electronic books

Technology is playing an ever greater role in family life today, but for children, nothing can beat a printed book that they can touch, manipulate and explore any way they want to. “With a printed book, there’s more scope for interaction and sensory stimulation than there is with an electronic version,” says Julie Brousseau. And even though children are strongly attracted to electronic tablets, it’s important to keep in mind that these are basically screens, like any TV or computer. The amount of time children are exposed to such devices should be limited.

Parents prefer “real” books to electronic books

“Rosanne had books around her right from when she was very young,” say her parents. “She was about 5 months old when we started sitting her in her high chair and giving her board books. She’d take them, handle them and open them up. Then we started giving her plastic bath books that gave her more to explore. At around 10 months of age, she’d pick up a book and pretend to read… and she still does that now, at age 2 1/2, with an impressive vocabulary.”
- Mathieu Fortin and Gabrielle Leblanc, parents of Rosanne, age 2 1/2, with a new baby boy expected in a few months.

When it comes to storytime, the majority of parents still prefer “real” books to electronic books, according to the results of a recent survey in the U.S. that polled 462 parents who own an iPad and have children between the ages of 2 and 6. The survey showed that:

  • less than 10% of parents and children prefer reading books on a tablet when they read a story together;
  • more than 70% of parents and half of the children expressed a preference for printed books;
  • nearly 20% of parents and 40% of children had no preference.

When they travel, however, parents prefer electronic books – 40%, compared to 25% in favour of printed books. And four out of five parents admit to having left their children with an electronic tablet when they were too tired to read them a story.
Source: Isabelle Burgun – Agence Science-Presse

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