14/08/2014 12:47 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Once Upon A Time...Why Reading To Babies Isn't So Batty

Once upon a time...why reading to babies isn't so batty

I have a photograph of my daughter, when she was about two months old, all scrunched up on Dan's lap as he read Avocado Baby, by John Burningham. I look it now, and I think, how funny! She was sooo tiny. But even then, as the picture shows, she was quite entranced – she stared at all the pictures and I remember her arms wildly batting as Dan turned the pages.

Do you enjoy reading to your children?


I know I've had periods when, at the end of a long and exhausting day, a request for a picture book we'd read EVERY night for the last two weeks was about as welcome as the inevitable request for a wee, 20 minutes after I'd tucked them up.


Yet isn't it amazing that a tot of just two or three might already be developing their literary tastes? Ruby's current must-read (twice a night) is The Gruffalo's Child.

She's almost at the point where she knows all the words by heart (she 'reads' it to herself occasionally) and she just loves the drama at the end with the Big Bad Mouse. I can forgive the monotony of it every time she curls her little hands up and does the "ROOOAAAARR!!"

I read last year about research that had shown two thirds of parents don't read books to their babies. And last autumn the BBC reported that children are reading less and less because books, comics and magazines are being ousted for other activities.

It makes me shudder! When I think of my insatiable appetite for stories when I was little, how utterly addictive books were to me, I want my girls to experience the same thing because it was such a good thing!

Books were both a time for sharing (chilly readings of The Wind in The Willows on rainy camping trips) and for not sharing (just me and Danny, The Champion of the World under my duvet with a torch). I remember to this day how much The Twits made me laugh, and that The Fox Cub Bold was the first book that made me cry.

Well, World Book Day is brilliantly designed to encourage children to enjoy reading. All school children will be receiving a £1 book token, which they can take along to a local book shop and exchange for one of eight fantastic books. Hopefully your child's school will be making a day of it on March 7th (are you making costumes yet?!).

But if your child's not yet at school, take the opportunity to shine a light on all things literary and put aside some special time for reading because it's good to start them young...!

Do read to tiny babies – they love the sound of your voice even if they don't understand the story.

Their senses are developing at lightning speed, and they'll be wowed by the contrasting colours in big picture books by the age of two months.

Experts believe that reading to babies when they are very young sets them up for learning vital language skills. In fact, new research has shown babies can decipher syllables even inside the womb, so read to your bump!

If you're making the transition from board books to story books, don't be put off by your baby insisting on turning the pages so you can't read the story (or biting them) – it's all just part of the process of them learning to enjoy books.

Instead, let them take the lead, and when you land on a page for more than a few seconds, just talk about the pictures, point to objects and describe them (or make the noises... oink!). As they get older, they'll pay attention to the story more.

If your children are more than two years apart in age, spend time reading with them separately, so they can enjoy books that are perfect for them.

Libraries all over the country are coming under threat so support yours by using it! Even very little children love browsing and choosing their own stories. What's more, you'll get a good hour's free entertainment out of it!

Ask toddlers what they would like to read stories about. Pirates? Princesses? Animals? Monsters? Have themed fortnights, then take them all back to the library and seek out a new subject.

If your child's become transfixed with one particular book and it's driving you crazy, go with it – there's perhaps something in it which particularly appeals to them for some reason. Or see if there are other books in the same series, or with the same character, which might peak their interest.

As children get older, talk to them about the stories you are reading. For example, why is Thomas the Tank Engine feeling glum? Or, what do you think he will do next? Books not only develop children's language skills, but also help them gain a much deeper understanding of the world on all sorts of levels.

If your child has received a book token, use your trip to the bookshop to find out about events they might be planning – our local Waterstones, for example, does a children's story time every Sunday morning. And lots of independent book shops regularly run special events and reading sessions for toddlers up.

All children (well, up to a certain age, admittedly) like to imitate what their parents do, so read yourself too – or perhaps have some family time on a Sunday where you all sit and listen to a chapter or two from a family favourite.

Pip Jones is the author of Squishy McFluff, The Invisible Cat, which will be be published in February 2014.