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Reading to your three-your-old has so many benefits, from helping you bond to showing them that you're interested in spending time with them. But it also provides you with the time to teach them important literacy skills, as well as the opportunities to develop their social skills and knowledge.
‘There are so many benefits to sharing books with your youngster,’ says Samantha Cleaver, co-author of Read With Me: Engaging Your Young Child in Active Reading and a mum of three.‘It builds empathy by introducing children to ways in which other people see the world – and being able to see things from somebody else’s point of view is a key part of making and keeping friends.’ Stories also introduce children to situations that they may not yet have experienced in their daily lives, such as going to the doctors, losing a toy or gaining a sibling. ‘Reading about those events beforehand helps youngsters to understand them, which makes them feel more confident about dealing with those situations when they do occur,’ says Samantha.
Top tips for encouraging your three-year-old to read
Go on a picture walk
When you do a ‘picture walk’ through a book, you don’t even glance at the text. You look at the illustrations, and you talk about what you see and about what the story might be. 'For older children aged two plus, doing this will get them talking about the details they notice in the pictures, which boosts their observational skills as well as their oral skills.’ says Samantha.
Ask simple questions such as, ‘Who’s standing by the rock?’ or ‘What colour is the fox?’ That’ll get her thinking, even if she can’t articulate those thoughts quite yet, so pause after your question before you answer. Ask open-ended questions, too, like, ‘What do you see on this page?’ as even a young tot can point at what grabs her interest. Encourage her to think about emotions, too, by asking, ‘What do you think the mouse is feeling now?’ And chat through your thoughts. Questions that start to get your child looking for clues in the pictures and using them to work out information about the story are great for older toddlers, too: questioning ‘What season is it?’ or ‘Why is the fox running?’ will really get him interested in what’s going on. ‘You’re getting your child to think and engage with the clues in the pictures,’ says Samantha. ‘You’re asking for his ideas and that will get him interested in what he sees.’
Going on a picture walk through a book your toddler is already super-familiar with is very different to wandering through a brand-new book together. If your tot already knows the story off by heart, going on a picture walk will prompt his memory and deepen his understanding of the story. But encourage him to go off-piste, too. You’ll find all sorts of objects in the illustrations that you’ve never noticed before – what’s their story?
Encourage sound and action
One reason why it’s great to read the same book a gazillion times is because your tot will start to memorise it. And once he knows a story that well, he can start to join in. ‘Youngsters love this,’ says Samantha. ‘It gives them a chance to show what they can do, which delivers a real boost to their self-esteem.’ By three, your tot will be reciting whole chunks of text, but don’t wait till then to encourage some participation from your mini-me.
With an older toddler, you can be even more creative. For example, a three-year-old will be able to shout ‘Down’, every time the witch in Julia Donaldson’s Room On The Broom needs to pick up something she’s dropped.
To help your little one and support them in the early stages of education, choose a variety of books for them to read, from easy rhyming books that they can help repeat the words, to ones with deeper meanings such as love and friendship. Check out our pic of books that are perfect for three-year-old children.
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