9 things Mem Fox wants you to know about reading aloud to your little ones

Posted in Family.

Mem Fox has been filling our children’s lives with joy, laughter and exciting words for over 35 years with her many wonderful books.

She is not only passionate about writing for kids, but also encouraging them to enjoy stories from an early age, and believes that the experience of reading aloud to your little one offers incredible benefits to both parent and child alike.

In fact, here are nine things Mem Fox would like to you know about that very special time:

1. It’s wonderfully soothing for the parent

Apart from the joy it gives your child, Mem sees the time spent reading to your child as utterly relaxing for you, the parent. Especially after a long and stressful day of working, sitting in traffic or running around after children. It can be a welcome relief to curl up with your little one and simply read a story.

“The peace that the rhythm gives you is almost meditative,” says Mem. “Your temperature goes down, your heartbeat slows; you’re in a magical space as a parent.”

2. It demonstrates love to the child, and for the child

In this busy world, your child relishes those moments that you spend together, one-on-one, away from everyday distractions. When reading aloud to your child, you’re giving them full focus and they absolutely love it – and feel well and truly loved. “Your child feels honoured by the attention,” says Mem. “We’re far too busy, especially in this world of social media, I think that kids can feel blocked out and that’s a terrible thing.”

3. It’s divine for the child who feels safe and secure

When you read aloud to your child, he might be on your lap or tucked up next to you in bed, and while this offers a feeling of physical comfort and care, Mem believes it actually provides a sense of overall security and safety, which is total bliss for your child. “It’s more of a mental security,” she says.

4. It increases bonding

The time spent reading to your child allows you both to connect and discover more about each other.

“You get to know your kid; the funny little quirks of his character, what sort of child he’s going to be, and he gets to know you, what amuses you, what makes you sad,” explains Mem. “It’s a beautiful time of getting to know each other.”

5. It develops language

Mem firmly believes that if a child is talking well at the age of four, you can be guaranteed that she’s been read to. “And it’s not just because of the words in the books, it’s because of the conversation that happens around the words in a book,” she says. “There’s actually a lot of to-and-fro talk around the words in a book, and that ‘to-and-fro’ talk develops language.”

6. It develops brains

“The beauty of reading to kids is that it develops sight because they’re looking at the words, it develops hearing because they’re hearing the words and it develops touch because they’re close to us,” she says. In fact, Mem wholeheartedly believes that reading to your child stimulates their brain and therefore encourages brain development.

7. It puts a highly positive spin on books

According to Mem, reading your child plenty of fun and exciting stories, well and truly before they start school will give them an ‘inoculation’ against the boredom of books.

“If the first book a child meets is a school reader, and that’s all he meets in the first couple for years of schooling, then why would he ever want to learn to read?” she asks. “Where’s the reward?”

8. It exposes children to rhyme, rhythm and repetition

Mem’s books often draw on rhyme, rhythm and repetition, which is not only incredibly enjoyable for kids but also makes it easier when learning to read.

According to Mem, as adults, we base reading on three things: the print on the page; guessing what the next word will or won’t be, based on what we’ve already read; and our knowledge of the world. “If we can introduce the idea to little kids of being able to predict through the joy of rhyme, rhythm and repetition, that gives them a great heave-ho into reading more easily,” she says.

9. It’s the foundation for learning to read at school

As a retired educator, Mem recognises how reading to your child helps them with the process of learning how to read. “I know it’s much easier for teachers to teach children to read if they’ve been read to before they go to school,” says Mem. And while she believes it’s our duty to read to our children for the sake of their future, Mem avoids the word ‘duty’, as this makes it sound like yet another task we must do as adults. “I focus on the word ‘joy’,” she laughs.

Baby reading

Overall, the ritual of reading aloud to our children is made up of many beautiful ingredients that all blend seamlessly to create a wonderful experience for all. And to add icing to an already delicious cake, Mem has ten top tips to help make the most of this particularly special time:

Mem’s 10 ‘read aloud’ commandments

  1. Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud. From birth!
  2. Read at least three stories a day: it may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read. Or the same story a thousand times!
  3. Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, or flat, or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.
  4. Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners.
  5. Read the stories that your child loves, over and over, and over again, and always read in the same ‘tune’ for each book: i.e. with the same intonations and volume and speed, on each page, each time.
  6. Let children hear lots of language by talking to them constantly about the pictures, or anything else connected to the book; or sing any old song that you can remember; or say nursery rhymes in a bouncy way; or be noisy together doing clapping games.
  7. Look for rhyme, rhythm or repetition in books for young children, and make sure the books are really short.
  8. Play games with the things that you and the child can see on the page, such as letting kids finish rhymes. Finding the letters that start the child’s name and yours is always a fabulous game.
  9. Never ever ‘teach’ reading, or get tense around books. Just reading with them is enough.
  10. Please read aloud every day because you just adore being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do.

Mem Fox’s latest book The Tiny Star, illustrated by Freya Blackwood and published by Penguin Random House, will be out in October.


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