Lisa Snell, Early Years Director at Busy Bees, discusses the importance of reading and how practitioners make storytelling and exciting engaging activity
Introducing books to children at an early age gives them a better understanding of their place in the world and the world around them, and it helps their brains to form connections.
As part of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), nursery practitioners are constantly measuring the attainment levels of children in nursery within the prime areas of learning, all of which can be significantly enhanced through reading.
According to latest research carried out by the Book Trust, 98% of parents agreed that reading with their child every day from an early age helps their development in school. Over half of parents (55.1%) said they have the greatest impact on shaping their child’s early literacy skills, with one in four (24%) believing adults who work with their children, such as early practitioners, exert the most influence.
So, as a childcare practitioner, how can you help children engage with reading from an early age and help parents make reading magical?
Reading shouldn’t be an activity that only takes place in nursery and by developing strong partnerships with your key child’s parents, there are lots of different ways you can encourage parents to not only make time for storytelling at home, but create a magical reading experience for their children.
Of course, as a parent myself, I understand the pressures and it can be extremely difficult to fit everything into one day. Parents don’t want to be lectured on how they should be reading to their child, but may well take an interest in how the family, as a whole, can enjoy reading at home and supplement their child’s learning at nursery.
A comfortable reading corner or space within an area of the nursery that is away from the more active areas is perfect to get small groups of children together for reading time.
This is something that you can show to parents to inspire them to create cosy reading spaces in the home. This doesn’t need to be complex, just ensure the corner or area is comfortable and away from distractions, so they feel content, relaxed and focused and can easily see the pictures and handle the book.
Reading corners are great but also think about how you can use seating with a high-back or cover. These provide a quieter area away from the main flow through the nursery to encourage children to sit and read alone or with their peers.
This may take a little more time to set up and perhaps isn’t something that parents will have time to do at home, but in a nursery, think about the space around you and how you can really bring the story to life by using an interesting area of the garden or an indoor area with lots of space.
By using props and narrating the story as you tell different parts sparks the children’s imagination and allows them to start painting pictures of certain characters or scenes in their head.
Linking the story to something that a child can understand or relate to personally really helps bring the story to life. For example, weave in mentions of family members, pets or areas they are familiar with in the community when reading the story.
This is a great suggestion for parents to engage their children with reading as they can look back at previous holiday photos and remind children of the great adventures they’ve enjoyed. You can make this even more relevant by asking children to bring their favourite animal toy from home to nursery and incorporate their toy within the story.
Most books for children carry a moral theme or characters that are experiencing certain emotions that children can relate to and understand. Reflecting on these themes and asking children questions about how they would feel if they were in the character’s shoes can help them develop an understanding of language for emotion eg try asking “How would you feel if someone stole your porridge?” or “Why do you think the monkey is feeling sad?”.
Using simple tips such as allowing children to turn the pages of the book on their own not only helps spark more interest in the story as they’re being given a responsibility and role to play in the storytelling, it can also provide a great opportunity for them to develop fine motor skills.
Of course, babies won’t be able to turn pages on their own but an 18-month-old child will want to give it a go and three or four-year-old will be able to turn the pages for you.
Familiarise children with the book itself so they can understand the format and how books are structured. Point out which part is the front cover, who the author is, illustrator and explain the purpose of the blurb.
By inviting parents to come and enjoy story time at the nursery as part of a wider event or initiative, you can show them simple tips such as how following the words with your finger can help a child understand that words printed on a page carry meaning when we read from left to right. Again, babies aren’t going to be able to pick up the structure of a book as such but three and four-year-olds should be able to engage with you on this level.
You can use the front cover or individual pages to ask children how they think the story might develop. This encourages them to use their imagination and sparks curiosity and excitement about what is coming next. It also helps children to use context clues from the pictures in the book.
Parents may not be aware that there are multiple benefits to reading to children even when they’re very young babies. Whilst a baby may not understand the words on the page, hearing an adult’s voice is not only soothing but helps babies develop listening skills and stimulates an interest in sounds. With babies, choose touchy-feely books where possible too as they are ideal for helping develop fine motor skills.
Many of us who work in childcare have a magical inner-childlike trait, but why do we do it? When it comes to storytelling, children can pick up on body language and emotions from a young age so if we sound bored or frustrated, the story loses its impact. Storytelling is all about bringing a story to life with plenty of enthusiasm and energy to make it really come alive. But most of all, it’s about making reading fun!
Lisa Snell is Early Years Director at Busy Bees, the UK’s leading provider of quality childcare.