I’ve been reading to Tasha from day one, and she’s grown into an avid reader! She’s learned so many new words from her books, and they’ve really shaped her interests. It’s also a lovely way to bond – reading cuddles are the best cuddles!
Many parents don’t think of reading to their under-5s, but studies show that it has a great impact on their future intelligence. Experts recommend reading even to newborns. It may feel strange reading to a pre-verbal child, but the more they’re hearing your voice, the more they’re learning! Also, it’s easier to expose them to the idea of reading as a fun bonding activity to do with mum when they’re still small; introducing books for the first time when they’re old enough to be running around, or have discovered TV and the iPad, can be a lot harder.
Reading the same books over and over again to babies will expose them to word repetition, and as they grow older they will gradually begin to understand that certain words are associated with the pictures in the story, and build their vocabulary as they learn about new concepts. You can encourage this process by pointing to the pictures in the storybook rather than to the words; it might seem intuitive to literate adults to point to the word, but pointing to a bunch of letters and telling a baby that it says cow doesn’t mean much when they don’t know which picture the cow is!
In Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age, author Maya Thiagarajan mentions that in the US, reading a bedtime story is a time-honoured tradition, but that in Asia there’s more of a focus on developing reading skills for future academic success than for a love of reading itself, and that she’s found the former approach to be much more rewarding: becoming literate early is great for parents to brag about, but it doesn’t really mean that much if the kids aren’t enjoying reading. The majority of children will become literate within a reasonable time-frame, but not all children will learn to love stories.
In our case, the educational side of things has happened naturally anyway: my little bookworm has come to be interested in all the strange new symbols she keeps seeing pop up in her books, so she often asks me to write words for her and then tell her what the letters are. Rather than my teaching her the alphabet out of context, it’s become something she naturally wanted to learn. At two and a half years, she can recognize all of the capital letters, so we’re definitely making progress while also having fun!
Remember: the focus of reading to a baby or toddler isn’t to teach them to read by themselves. You’re telling them a story, introducing them to new concepts, and instilling creativity and an interest in the world. Long before writing systems even developed, our prehistoric ancestors bonded over storytelling at the cooking fire, drew pictures on cave walls, and used words to convey their culture and folklore to the next generation. Teach your child to love stories, and cultivate their imagination: the rest will come naturally.
And now, for what you’ve all been waiting for: the carefully selected reading recommendations of Happy Eco Toddler!
This is a great book for babies to learn the vocabulary to express their emotions. The illustrations are cute, there’s plenty of flaps to lift, a mirror on the front so that they can look at their own expressions (or just preen, in Tasha’s case hehe), and examples given of why the different animals and babies feel happy, sad, excited or grumpy. Tasha has been using these words a lot now that she understands them, and it’s made her a lot more confident in talking about her feelings.
I’ve tried not to restrict Tasha’s reading list to typical “girl” books, or her interests to “girl” interests; it always bothers me going into K-Mart and seeing the swathes of pink and blue on the shelves, or the girls’ science kits about “make your own lipbalm” while the boys get the cool things like slime. I would much prefer to make slime, thanks!
This book is one of Tasha’s favourite: bright colours, big vehicles, things crashing into each other. She’s been running around whacking me and going “I bash, I crash, I’m a monster truck!” for about 6 months now. (Note: she only bashes mummy. And the fact that I laugh hysterically probably means that bashing and crashing will continue for some time lol)
Of course, as she’s got older and started playing more with other girls, she’s developed the usual love for princesses and tiaras, but I’m proud to say that she’s a tiara-clad princess who loves trucks, buses, trains, Thomas the Tank Engine, Shinkansen, and all manner of motor vehicles.
When I was very small, I wanted to be an astronaut, so getting her interested in space was a no-brainer: she also enjoys watching sci-fi like Star Trek and Dr Who with mummy! This book has taught Natasha lots of space concepts, and also got her interested in rockets; I reinforced the book by showing her videos of NASA rocket launches, which she now requests regularly. She can often be found running around the house going “3, 2, 1, BLAST-OFF!” so clearly this book was a winner! 😂
These were some of Tasha’s favourites when she was smaller; they taught her the names of all sorts of different textures, and they’re bright, colourful and cute. They also introduced her to a love of dinosaurs!
This is a gorgeously-illustrated story about a remote Australian Aboriginal community in the desert, with an elder predicting a big rain coming that will relieve the stifling heat of the summer. The book introduces children to weather concepts and the days of the week, and it’s one of Tasha’s firm favourites (and mine too!)
This is a classic here in Australia; originally written by a Kiwi author, it’s beloved in both countries and you’d struggle to find a child here who doesn’t know this book! The illustrations are adorable, the different dogs all have lots of character, and there’s plenty of repetition. Tasha was scared of dogs before, and I think that this book really helped her get used to them!
This is a Fisher-Paykel book, and the characters shown in the book pop up in a lot of their books and toys. Tasha’s baby soother projects these characters on to the ceiling at night, so it’s exciting for her to see what the cute little animals get up to during the day, and she’s actually memorized all of the words in the book now so she can even read it to herself!
As the title suggests, this book is inspired by Bob Marley’s One Love, which has always been a favourite of mine! The book is written by his daughter, Cedella Marley, with beautiful illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. The story is about a little girl who comes up with the idea of building a park for the community to enjoy, and engages the whole community in making the idea a reality, so it’s a great message about how kids with vision don’t need to wait until they’re adults to make a difference!
My little girl finds poop hilarious. It’s totally a family tradition! 💩
Also, since the book is adapted from the rainbow song, it’s great way to practice colours.
This has been our bedtime story every night for awhile now, and she still loves it to bits, as do I! It’s about a mummy and baby sea otter who cuddle together throughout the day, as the baby floats on mummy’s tummy, they frolic in the ocean, and the mummy tells the baby how special every day is because it was spent with her baby, and how the happiest moments of her life will be the moments they’ve spent together. My favourite line in the book: “today we had a joyful day, we both learned something new; I taught you lots of things I know and learned so much from you”. It’s so true: I have learned a ton from Natasha, seeing the world with fresh eyes as she notices flowers and plays with sticks. She has taught me joy with her contagious smile, and strength because I want to be the best mummy I can be.
There’s a Hebrew expression: “with each child, the world begins anew”: my world certainly began anew when I became a mummy!
Together expresses exactly how I feel about my little girl. It reminds me each and every night how lucky I am to have spent the day watching my little angel grow, and to look forward to the day ahead. And of course, it reminds Tasha of how much her mummy loves her!
I hope some of these books will become favourites in your family’s bookshelves too, and that reading to your child will bring you both fond memories in the years to come!