Mother and Baby

Wednesday Lunch Club - your storytime and reading questions answered

Section: Toys & Education

Confused about which books to read to your baby? Or worried that your child isn’t interested in books? Reading expert Nicola Bird, Senior Editor at Ladybird, answered some of your questions in our Wednesday Lunch Club Q&A.

Here at Mother & Baby we bring you the Wednesday Lunch Club – a chance to get brilliant advice for your parenting questions from a top expert. 

This week (June 24, 2015) we put your questions to Nicola Bird.

Nicola is Ladybird’s Senior Editor and one of Penguin Random House Children’s resident experts on all things that little bookworms love.

She is part of the team behind Ladybird’s award-winning, interactive Baby Touch range, best-selling books for toddlers like the Pirate Pete and Princess Polly series, and iconic learning to read series like Read it yourself with Ladybird. Every Ladybird book is specially researched and designed by the in-house experts to stimulate and entertain both parents and children across every age and every stage of a child’s development.

If you missed our Q&A session over on Facebook, here’s what happned: 

I have a 10-and-a-half-month old; he’s not really into books yet, he just loves to close them! Any tips on getting him into books more? And which books do you recommend? 

Nicola: I bet your little boy is busy and into everything at this age so maybe try introducing him to books with big flaps to lift or touch and feel areas so he can explore the pages physically. Ask him what he can see on the pages so he feels involved and it becomes more of a game than strictly 'reading'. Ladybird have a range of books called Toddler Touch that contain lots of these elements, and classic flap books like Where's Spot? are always brilliant.

I’ve been given lots of books as gifts. What books are best for very young babies?

Nicola: Newborns are trying to make sense of this new world around them, so in the beginning sharing soft cloth books with noisy crinkles, mirrors and different textures is ideal for stimulating a baby's developing senses. Look out for books with bold, high-contrast colours as well to capture their attention, as up until three months a baby only can see a limited palette of contrasting colours such as black, white, red and yellow.

Older babies learning how to reach out and grab will enjoy sturdy board books with interactive elements such as touch and feels that they can physically play with and explore.

Noisy sound books drive me crazy! Why are they good for children? My little boy loves them!

Nicola: Yes, sound books can sometimes be irritating, especially when you're listening to the noises constantly! However, they're a great way of getting a child involved in a book - pressing the button is something they can do themselves, so they feel empowered and 'in charge'. They're also learning about cause and effect: "If I press that button, this noise happens!"

Sound buttons in a book are also a great way of educating a child about the noises things make in the world around them - how a cat miaow sounds, or what noise a tractor makes. They will love copying these noises and that's a great way of helping first speech development.

I want read to my baby books for older people, such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, is that OK or should I only be reading baby books?

Nicola: That is a good question! It slightly depends on your baby's age as the older and more curious and lively they get the more difficult it is to sustain their attention for more than a few minutes at a time - that's why baby books are short!

It's so important for a young child to hear people speaking and reading

However, I'm a firm believer in that all reading is good reading. Although your baby won't necessarily understand what it is you're reading to them, they will love listening to your voice as it rises and falls and get great comfort from that. It's so important for a young child to hear people speaking and reading as it teaches them about the rhythm of speech and how language works. I say go for it! There's no wrong way of reading to your child - they are your biggest fan whatever it is you're sharing with them, even if it's just the back of a cereal packet.

Nursery rhymes can seem really old fashioned to new mums - are they still relevant to babies? How do they help their development?

Nicola: Nursery rhymes are brilliant for encouraging the essential listening, speaking and memory skills every child needs for learning. They're fun too, especially if they come with actions or a singalong tune! What's great about classic nursery rhymes in particular is that they become a shared experience for children - there's that magical moment when they realise that other people know them, too.

Rhymes like Five Little Ducks can help early counting practice

Rhymes like Five Little Ducks can help early counting practice, and ones like If You're Happy and You Know it are great for improving coordination as you join in the moves! There's really something for everyone, and if you don't know the words or tunes, don't worry, there are lots of resources online or at baby and toddler classes to help you out!

I have a child who is starting school this year – do they need to know how to read and write before they start?

A reception teacher certainly won't expect new starters to already be able to read and write

Nicola: All children develop and learn at different rates and a reception teacher certainly won't expect new starters to already be able to read and write. A class will start learning to read together, usually using phonics.

However, if your child shows an interest in learning before they start school, then you could look at books about the alphabet or first numbers together. Simple stories are also good for helping a child begin to understand the relationship between printed words on the page and the sounds they make, which is an important first step in learning to read.

How can books help with potty training?

Nicola: Books are often extremely useful used in conjunction with potty training as they can help explain the process in ways that parents might not feel confident doing, in simple, appropriate language. Children can also be reassured in seeing that others are going through this same experience, too, and will often like to read them over and over again.

Ladybird's potty training titles, Pirate Pete's Potty and Princess Polly's Potty, often come recommended by parents

Ladybird's potty training titles, Pirate Pete's Potty and Princess Polly's Potty, often come recommended by parents. They take a child through choosing a potty and what it is used for, wearing pants, washing hands, having accidents and trying your best. There's also a cheer sound button (sorry to the sound button poster before!) which helps to motivate children as they choose their own pants, do a wee in the potty and so on.

My little girl is just about to turn three. She's quite shy at times. How can books help build up her confidence?

Nicola: Again, I think this is where nursery rhymes are really useful. Your little girl will like the repetitive nature of the rhymes and after repeated readings will begin to know what's coming next, so encourage her to join in and shout out the last line or end of the rhyme. She also might like to see that other children know these rhymes too, making it more of a group activity she feels confident joining in with.

What are your ultimate recommendations for bedtime story books?

Nicola: I tend to find that books with gentle rhythm and rhyme are popular at bedtime. Listening to a parent read in a soft, rhythmic voice is very soothing for a child and helps to reinforce the fact that this is a time to be calm and quiet. Books by Julia Donaldson are deservedly popular because of how good she is at rhyme and story! Ladybird's First Favourite Tales are abridged fairy tales that are specially written with rhythm and rhyme for younger children and lots of people like to choose a more traditional story like these for bedtime as again the familiarity is comforting. 

There's nothing wrong with reading something your child just really loves though - whether they're into Peppa Pig, dinosaurs or Thomas the Tank Engine, a bedtime book is always a special shared time! 

  • Author: Sophie Knight Sophie Knight
  • Job Title: Contributing Editor

Sophie is a journalist and mum of one, and previously edited before moving on to write about family cars for - now Sophie is Commercial Content Editor for M&B, Closer, Heat, Empire, Yours, Garden News, and 

She is passionate about raising awareness around postnatal depression and is a Mental Health First Aider.

Sophie studied History at the University of Sheffield and has been in journalism for 16 years. 

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