Nurturing a love of books and reading

As preschool children grow, their leaps into independence become impossible to ignore. With her fifth birthday on the horizon, I’ve noticed that my granddaughter Daisy has become more content to play on her own for longer periods, where previously would insist on the participation of an adult playmate.

While her parents cook, do chores, or grab a few precious moments of peace, Daisy is happy to spend 20 mins or so unattended in the family sitting room – which doubles as her playroom – lost in a world of her own imagination. 

What I find interesting is that, left to her own devices, and after a prolonged play session with her animals and CBeebies action figures, she often ends up gravitating toward the bookshelf in the corner of the room. 

In this cosy little alcove – perfect for her to crouch in with her back resting on the radiator – she starts to pull out wads of picture books, perusing the titles before deciding which one she’s going to leaf through and ‘read’ to herself.

A young child reads a copy of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are
Increasingly, Daisy enjoys leafing through books on her own

Shelf esteem

Daisy’s daddy used to store newly purchased books on these shelves, confident that Daisy wouldn’t find them before he rationed them out to her as occasional treats. Her newfound combination of independence and curiosity put paid to that! Last week Daisy uncovered three titles that she recognised instantly were new additions to her library, and Daddy’s stockpile was wiped out in the space of an hour.

She’s not just receiving books from her parents, though. During my most recent visit, Daisy brought home a book from nursery school as part of a reading scheme. While she’s started to enjoy leafing through books on her own, sharing a book with a parent or grandparent is a well-established activity and one which Daisy enjoys whether at home, in the park, on the beach, on a train, or anywhere for that matter! 

During the third lockdown early this year, I wrote about how to use activities to bring a particular storybook to life – lessons that apply equally outside of those restrictions. Now I thought it might be useful to share a few observations about how you can get the most of your shared reading experience with your grandchild.

Armchair expert

At home, Daisy likes to squeeze herself onto the armchair next to me. It’s an ideal vantage point for her, as she can control the pace of the activity just as much as me. Reading together is as enjoyable for me as it is for Daisy and I never like to rush the opportunity to share a book, or several of them, with her. 

A young child sits on her grandmother's knee to share a picture book together
Daisy loves to share a book with a family member

Once we are both sitting comfortably, and before I start to read, we look at the book cover. We chat about the illustration and I ask Daisy what she thinks the book is going to be about. 

Then I tell her the title of the book and the author of the book – she is already becoming familiar with several authors. The anticipation is built and Daisy is ready for me to get on with the story!

I find that the pace of reading the book together is determined by the rhythm of the story and Daisy’s absorption in the narrative. Occasionally she’ll place a hand on the page to stop me turning it, so that she can look at the illustrations more closely. 

When we’re sharing a new book, I’ll often stop reading at the end of a page and, before turning to the next page, ask Daisy what she thinks is going to happen next. Again, that’s flexible and Daisy really determines when I do it.

Reading and re-reading

Most books deserve more than one read, so on the next reading we look more closely at the illustrations and talk about what else is taking place in the book. This is what happened with the book Daisy brought home from the nursery for some weekend reading.

In the first reading of Little Monkey by Marta Altes, Daisy just wanted to follow the story. 

The second time that we read the book, we started to hunt for the tiger that was featured on each page. We also looked at the facial expressions and decided how the characters might be feeling. 

By the third reading, we talked about the other animals who live in the jungle too.

Of course, each night there’s also a bedtime story for Daisy. She likes to pick a favourite story for me to read, although I have noticed that Daisy has a preference for longer stories, perhaps because they help to delay the moment she finally has to settle down for the night!

Never too early to start

There are many benefits to reading books together with your child or grandchild. Incidental benefits grow with the physical act of sharing books, from the book’s front cover to the direction of the text (which provides an awareness of the direction in which our individual cultures read and write). 

The book-reading routines began with Daisy in her very first months, when we sat her on our laps and started to share and read picture books with her. There’s a special security in these cuddles and a growing familiarity with hearing our voices; sharing picture books has physical benefits too.

Babies are born with immature blurred sight; during these early stages they have limited visual perception and their eyes work independently. It’s useful to keep in mind that the best picture books for babies should have bold, simple images that are high contrast, with clear definition of shapes that will attract the baby’s attention. 

Cuddling a baby on your lap  you can easily hold a book at the ideal distance for them to focus on. This, along with Early Years toys, play gyms and well-positioned mobiles will help the baby to develop their single-image binocular vision. 

Granny Smith says… 

  • Given how much Daisy and I have enjoyed books together, I’ve just purchased ‘Night, Night’ a shiny foil and black-and-white book for the arrival of friend’s first grandchild
A young child peeks smilingly over the top of a copy of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are

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