Contributed by Julia Gabriel




When my son and daughter were little, we had a bed-time routine of one story a night. I didn't have any difficulty getting them to go to bed! The problem was that they had their own ideas of what books they wanted me to read. My carefully selected choices were rejected whenever they wanted the same old favourite, read over and over again. My children taught me that they had their own needs and their own ideas about what was appropriate.

Now, many years later, in the Book Room at Julia Gabriel Centre for Learning, we have adopted this child-centred approach. We ensure that all the books in our library are worth reading and then allow students freedom to choose their own books, from the age of three.

Our early reading books are chosen because they are written to be read aloud or shared. The language is colourful and flows easily. It feels and sounds good to read aloud. We also make sure that the story can be maximized and extended with exciting illustrations and plenty to talk about. Finally, the book must motivate readers, through plot, characters, pictures or subject, to read it so that adults want to share the book with our children.

It is important that we don't stop reading to our children just because they have learned to read for themselves. For many children, reading is a slow and laborious task, perfected slowly over time. They still enjoy being read to, and listening to stories, well beyond their own reading ability. So keep up the bed time (or anytime) stories which will extend language, imagination and awareness. I read to my children (and students) even during their teenage years.

"But……I don't read aloud well or know how to tell stories." Take heart: There is no right or wrong! Just enjoy sharing precious time together with a book. Take your time and vary your voice with the pace, feelings and characters in the story. Let the words tell you what to do and you'll read well enough for your child to enjoy listening.

Many parents find tapes and videos an easy substitute for reading books, but a recorded voice, however accurate or professional, doesn't respond to a child's questions and can't talk about what's happening in the story. And it isn't mum or dad! There's no substitute for a caring reader and passionate lover of books.

"How do I know if it's a good book to choose?" If it motivates you to read it and if your child wants to read it then it's worth reading. If it is truthful, imaginative, sensitive and enjoyable then it's worth reading. Listen to your children: They will let you know what they value and enjoy.

As parents we teach most by example. To encourage our children to become readers, we need to value and use books ourselves. If I value and include books in my life, the message to my children is clear: Books are important to me. If I make time to read to my children I'm showing them that I value spending time with them, and establishing a reading pattern, for life.

I'm grateful to my parents for reading to me as a child: A habit that I continued with my children. So, let's show our children the way to choose, use and value books as our friends for life, and make a little time together, to enjoy sharing words, ideas and books together, in our families.


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