As adults, we know the pleasure of diving into a good book or even taking a few moments to get lost in a glossy magazine. So, as parents, we’d love our children to experience the same simple joys.
Once you become a parent you can expect a little thrill when you stumble across a book you loved when you were young. The Tiger Who Came To Tea, perhaps? Or one of the classic Berenstain Bears stories?
But introducing books to your child is so much more than a nostalgia trip.
At the very beginning it’s about the simple bonding experience of sitting your baby on your lap while reading aloud to her.
As your baby grows, stories become more about the wonderful world of words, the infinite source of knowledge that comes with books and, of course, sparking the imagination of your little one so she dreams great dreams.
The choice of children’s books these days is vast, from touchy-feely ones to rhyming, flapping and plot-driven ones.
It’s been a hard task, but we’ve managed to narrow it down to our own list of 50 books we think should be on every child’s bookshelf. (Click here to see our list).
They’re the ones you won’t mind returning to over and over, when you hear those words: “Read me a story, Mummy.”
Reading to baby
Try these reading tips once you have baby fed, rested, alert and ready for a snuggle on the couch:
Story time for toddlers
Rhymes and repetition come into their own as your baby grows into a toddler. You’ll find you’re reading the same book until you know it by heart.
If you have a toddler who’d rather be playing on the floor than listening to a story, it’s a matter of picking your time (maybe just before bed when she’s tired and ready for a cuddle) and choosing a topic she enjoys.
But the main thing, says childhood education expert Sarah Farquhar, is to give your toddler lots of experiences from early on and the language to talk about them.
Trips on the train, going for walks, watching the neighbour’s cat — these are all opportunities for experiences and learning language.
Finger puppets are good too, as are rhymes involving fingers and toes, such as “This Little Piggy Went to Market”.
"People think that’s not related to reading but it is. It’s all language and you can’t learn to read without language,” says Dr Farquhar, who’s director of the early childhood education network Child Forum.
Giving your child the words she needs might involve talking about your experiences at the end of each day.
Do lots of drawing with your child, then write a description underneath, for example “rocket ship”, plus your child’s name in the corner. This helps with recall and strengthens memory, as well as introducing new words.
As your child reaches three and four years old you can start associating letters, symbols and numbers with their meanings, for example, pointing out stop signs, prices in the supermarket or even, as your child gets ready for school, play Eye Spy in the car using sounds (“ggg”) instead of letters.
What you don’t do, however, is try to push your preschooler into learning to read early.
“All the research shows that a child who is made to engage in structured teaching of reading or is taught to read before five isn’t necessarily going to be more advanced later than other children,” says Dr Farquhar.