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Reading to your Young Child

Reading to children has many benefits. It is a great opportunity to bond and enjoy each other's company. It can also increase their vocabulary, trigger their imagination and expose them to new experiences and concepts. Moreover, reading with children prepares them for learning to read by fostering their appreciation for books and by familiarizing them with print and the structure of stories.

Some parents wonder whether reading to their child in utero has any benefits. While there is no research suggesting that this has any unique benefits, doing things like talking, reading or singing to your child during your pregnancy will help you develop feelings of attachment towards her. By focusing on her in this way, you can begin to include her in your life. Also, through these activities and your everyday conversations with others, you are exposing your child to your voice. As a result, she will be capable of recognizing it from the moment she is born and this will contribute to her bonding with you. So it's never too early to start reading to your child.

From the first days of life and throughout childhood, you can help instill a love of reading. Start by setting an example. Show your child that reading is an enjoyable activity by reading in his presence and keeping lots of reading material in your home. Read to him often (several times a day!), a special activity that stimulates your child's senses through colourful illustrations to look at, the comforting sound of your voice, your touch and your smell as he snuggles against you.

You can further enhance your child's enjoyment of book-reading by encouraging your child to get actively involved in various ways. For example, let your infant manipulate sturdy board books and soft cloth or plastic books as you read to him. He will enjoy feeling the different textures with his fingers... and his mouth! Toddlers typically enjoy pointing to the various illustrations as you name them, and you can capture your child's imagination by giving the characters their own voice (e.g. a low voice for adults, a high squeaky voice for baby animals, etc.) Older toddlers and preschoolers, for their part, will like talking with you about what they think will happen next in the story and reacting to surprising, funny or scary events in the story. Make eye contact and ask open-ended questions (that can't be answered with "yes" or "no") to initiate the discussion, such as "What do you think Arthur is feeling?" and "What is the little girl doing now?" These actions can make book-reading a more fun, positive and engaging experience for your child by allowing him to play an active rather than a passive role.

It is also important to let your child set the pace. Spend as much or as little time as he wants on each page. Also, give him the opportunity to choose books that interest him. Raid your local library or bookstore so you have a wide selection of books available to choose from and let him decide which book he wants to read, even if you've already read it three times that day! By respecting his choices and supporting his interests in these ways, you will foster his appreciation of books and help him develop a positive attitude towards reading.

Try to choose books that are appropriate for your child's age and level of development. Children's books often come with age recommendations that are based on factors such as the book's length, the level of vocabulary, the topics and concepts covered, and the amount of detail appropriate for the average child's level of development at a given age. However, some children have greater vocabulary levels and are capable of concentrating on a story for a longer period of time than other children of the same age and may master some concepts at an early age. If this is the case with your child, he may be ready for more advanced books. You can try reading books to him that are meant for children who are one or two years older, as long as you feel the topic is appropriate for him and as long as he enjoys these books – don't push him is she is not ready. You can also choose to omit or modify certain parts of the text if you feel it is too complex or too long for his attention span.

Some parents find that their child does not seem to be interested in books. They try to close the book or struggle to get away during story time. If this happens to you, don't force things as this will only frustrate both of you. Do try again soon, however. Choose your timing carefully and take into account your child's mood and energy level. Pick a time when your child is relaxed, perhaps just before bedtime, and read in a quiet place where there is no other distraction such as the television or other family members who are engaged in a different activity. Also, suggest books that match your child's interest (e.g. animals, machines, rhymes, etc). He will be more likely to enjoy such books. It's also important to follow your child's lead and to give him plenty of leeway for exploration; don't assume he will understand right from the beginning that the pages have a specific order, or that he will want to read the whole book in one sitting. The important thing is that he has fun, not that he does it the "right" way.

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