Tired of the time spent in front of a screen? Here’s how to get your kids to love reading

Moving to a new city is always a challenge, especially with a newborn baby.

The transition can be even trickier when English is not your first language.

But Katayoun Rahrovae found solace in the weekly story hour at her local library in Rockampton, Queensland.

The language barrier hasn’t stopped Katayoun from taking her toddler Kasra to the sessions, where parents and children are encouraged to sing, dance and read together.

“English is not our mother tongue and we don’t speak English at home, but he really appreciates it,” Katayoun said.

“He doesn’t understand the language, but he definitely understands rhymes because he follows rhymes.”

Katayoun left Iran for Australia in 2015, where she settled in Cairns in the far north of Queensland.

She gave birth to Kasra in early 2020 and, when he was just one month old, the family moved 12 hours south to Rockhampton.

The benefits of the local library’s Read & Rhyme sessions have been twofold: Kasra is learning new things while Katayoun has found a new community of moms.

“I don’t have a lot of friends and family here,” she says.

“But coming here and seeing people and talking to people is really helpful for me too.”

Librarian Toni Allen’s weekly reading and nursery rhyme sessions combine reading and counting exercises with plenty of song and dance for parents and children. (ABC: Erin Semmler)

Learn in more than one way

Toni Allen’s favorite thing is noticing changes – big and small – in her small audience.

She’s in charge of the early literacy project at the library, responsible for organizing the storytelling sessions and keeping the kids engaged throughout.

The biggest changes Toni sees in children are the new words they learn, but she has noticed that they also become more confident with each session they attend.

The sessions she leads are designed for newborns up to the age of five, combining literacy and numeracy activities with storytelling and song.

A woman is smiling at the camera, in the background are shelves of picture books.
Toni says there are many ways to help your child’s literacy development, including talking to him in your daily activities and making reading interactive with silly sounds and voices. (ABC: Erin Semmler)

While the goal is to help babies and children develop, some of the biggest changes Toni sees are in their parents.

“They’re starting to get more involved in what they do with the kids,” Toni says.

“Because it’s a little embarrassing at first to shoot those heads… and overreact and make those silly noises.

“But they tend to arrive in a matter of weeks, and they’re all happy to be a part of it.

“And then the kids get more involved as they go along, and you start to see their reading and writing skills and their ability to speak.”

Making stories an interactive experience, rather than an obligation, is something Toni recommends replicating at home.

Think of funny voices and silly sounds to bring the book to life. She says that just talking to babies and children as part of your daily activities will also help with literacy.

“It’s good if you can read at night before bed.

“But forcing them to sit down when they really don’t want to be there isn’t going to help.

“Talking to them while they are on the move to do daily activities is just as invaluable. “

Mom sitting with a young child and her baby, holding a picture book in front of her and reading to them.
Sara Buchholz says reading from an early age helped five-year-old Hollie’s development. Now they are also taking five-month-old Noah to class. (ABC: Erin Semmler)

“Our children are all linked together”

Sara Buchholz has been reading to five-year-old Hollie since she was in the womb, and has been taking her to library storytelling sessions for years.

They are now joined by 5 month old Noah.

Reflecting on Hollie’s love for reading, Sara says library sessions are a huge boost.

“At a young age, she could write her name and recognize letters,” says Sara.

“You can just tell from the way she does things now, how much that has really helped her develop.”

Like Katayoun, the sessions also helped Sara find a community of other moms.

“It’s really good for parents to be able to get out of the house and have something to take their kids to,” she says.

“We find that the same group of people come every week, so you can bond with them and their children. And our children are all bonded together.”

How to encourage your child to read

If you’re looking to encourage reading over your screen time this summer (and beyond), there are plenty of ways to start.

Here’s what Toni and her fellow librarians recommend:

  • Remember that literacy is more than reading books and can begin at birth.
  • For babies, spend time singing nursery rhymes with actions. Slow down your songs or actions to give them time to respond or react.
  • As your baby gets older, start talking to her in your daily activities. For example, count the items in your shopping cart or tell them why they are wearing certain clothes.
  • Listen to your children and encourage their questions.
  • Don’t force your kids to sit still during story time, make it an interactive experience.
  • When you read a book, act out scenes or put on voices and encourage your children to join you.
  • If your child isn’t careful, skip a few pages or read a new book.
  • If your child is interested in a particular TV show, movie, or game, look for ways to incorporate it into story time. Is there a picture book with similar characters or related to the series? Could you create counting or reading games off the screen?
  • Check if your local library offers story time sessions and ask the librarian for recommendations based on your child’s interests.

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