Making Book Sharing Time Count

Family reading in bed.You may have heard that we should be reading to children every day. Some articles will even urge parents to read to their children a minimum of 15 minutes or half an hour every day. This isn’t bad advice, and it’s not even a bad target to shoot for, but I’m not sure how realistic it is for everybody. I would argue that quality matters more than quantity when it comes to sharing books.

Babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and the rest of us learn best when we are comfortable and happy. If you try to share books with children when they are tired, in pain, hungry, or otherwise uncomfortable, they will probably resist and quickly become frustrated with your attempts. Our brains operate very differently when we’re scared or upset, and learning necessarily takes a backseat to the desire to feel safe again. So, if your goal is to give your children a lifelong love of reading, do not insist on book sharing when your children have clearly had enough. You want them to associate book sharing with good feelings and not fighting and tears.

Those moments when you can spend one-on-one time with your children are very special, and as much as our organization exists to promote literacy, books are not the only thing that children need. So don’t be too concerned if they don’t want to read all of the time. Playing together, snuggling, making weird noises, and exploring the community are all valuable and worthy pursuits. Add to that all of your daily meals, sleep, work and errands, and some days you might be lucky to find 5 minutes to read together, and that’s still incredibly valuable.

One last thing: asking young children, and especially babies, to pay attention for a long time is often asking too much. If your book sharing time is split up into 15 one-minute chunks, that is no less valuable than one 15-minute session. Look for when the reading opportunities present themselves rather than try to force it to happen at any particular time.

Whether you are reading to calm your children and get them ready to sleep, or to goof around and have some fun, you want book sharing to be a positive experience for both you and your children. That way no matter how often you actually get the chance to read together, it will be something that you both look forward to and benefit from.

#books_for_babies

Have Fun and Build Brains Using “Serve and Return”

More brain connections form in the first six years of life than at any other time, and the more you use these connections the stronger they get. Brain connections are built on a foundation of “serve and return” interactions. Serve and return refers to give-and-take —healthy interaction that goes both ways. For example, if your baby “serves” by smiling at you, you “return” by smiling back. By doing this, you are showing baby that you understand them and they matter; you are giving them the feedback they need to learn.

TheBigAnimalMix-upReading a story together is a great example of a serve and return activity, and many have an interactive nature built right into them. The Big Animal Mix-up, a lift-the-flap book by Gareth Edwards and Kanako Usui is a good one to try. It has bright pictures, humour, and a lot of rhythm and rhyme. In the story, Little Bear’s dad tries to teach him about animals: “Hello Little Bear, here’s a story for you, that’s all about animals and what they can do.” Only as the title suggests, they’re all mixed up! He has snakes mixed up with birds, and mice mixed up with whales. Now Little Bear (and your child) have to set the record straight.

Here is a bird. It slithers around. And slides through the jungle with a soft hissing sound.”

“Hang on a minute! You made a mistake. If it hisses and slithers it must be a..… [open flap] SNAKE!”

Remember that any book can be made interactive by talking about the pictures, having your child help you with the story, asking open-ended questions, and relating the story to real life.

Building brain connections through serve and return has a big impact on the rest of a child’s life, providing the solid foundation needed for language and emotional health. But don’t forget to have fun while doing it!