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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 5, No. 3 - May/June 2013

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The Value of Reading Aloud to Young Children

By Dr. Virginia Lowe

Choose a nursery rhyme book, and take your ten week old baby on your lap. You may have been singing nursery rhymes since birth; now sing the same ones but associate them with a particular brightly coloured image.

If you read daily to babies they will soon recognise the image for that particular rhyme or song - 'Baa Baa Black Sheep', 'Humpty Dumpty'.

You might choose their next book because of its bright colours and heavy outlines such as a Dick Bruna (Miffy books). You will notice that soon babies have a favourite page. Is it that the lion looks like their beloved cat? Is it that the sailor looks like a person? They smile, or bang their fists on the page with enthusiasm - but just at one or two pages - they clearly distinguish page from page.

At this stage you say clearly 'that's a man' or 'lion' and they will associate those words with that page, just as they did the specific nursery rhyme.

Your baby will also be experiencing the pleasure of sitting on your lap, hearing your voice, feeling its vibrations and seeing the colourful book. If you are patient, and have chosen the books carefully, reading will soon become a favourite activity.

By six or eight months, they can recognise a page - they have favourites - and now it's time to start reading stories as well. Read the author's words. Of course the baby won't understand them all, but they will be getting used to literary language. However simple it is, it is not the same as the spoken word. They will be acquiring the idea of the story with characters they can identify with. A story which has a beginning, a middle and an ending.

You will continue talking about the pictures - playing the 'labelling game' - but babies are familiar with your everyday language. Give them new and exciting words by actually reading the books, they'll end up with a fascination with words.

When your baby begins to speak, you will find the book-language moves into their vocabulary as well. At first they will chime in with a word, especially a rhyming one.

Eventually they will acquire not only specific words, but syntax and phrases: 'Warm and cosy'; 'Where are we going this nice fine day?'; 'Help, or my heart will break!'; 'Here's the pond I dabble in'. This is especially so if they hear their favourites over and over. Once the stories are completely familiar they will be able to recite them, and often bring adapted quotations into their speech.

Yes, reading aloud is invaluable.


  • Start singing & reciting at birth
  • Add a nursery rhyme book at about ten weeks
  • Begin actual stories at about six months
  • Read the author's words
  • Reread the story as often as the child asks for it
  • Give books for baby presents for years of pleasure

About Dr. Virginia Lowe

Dr. Virginia Lowe kept a record of her two children's responses to books and their literary influence, from birth to early adolescence. Her book on the children from birth to eight, is "Stories, Pictures and Reality". An article about the children and nursery rhymes is in "Books for Keeps", now available online.

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