READING aloud with children from a young age has many benefits, from bonding and interacting with parents to learning language and literacy skills. It’s an added bonus when children develop a love for reading that will last a lifetime.
Literacy experts recommend starting from infancy and continuing to read regularly with children even after they learn to read on their own.
But not every child will have ready access to books, especially those from low income and rural families.
So it’s welcome news that the Sarawak State Library will distribute reading kits to parents of newborns at government hospitals and clinics statewide starting in May to promote early literacy and childhood reading.
The kits will include reading materials and playing blocks to stimulate children’s senses and a home childcare manual for parents.
According to the library’s chief executive officer Rashidah Bolhassan, this initiative aims to get parents to read aloud to their babies to expose them to the sounds and rhythms of speech, which is crucial for language development.
“Reading is an important skill that should be developed as soon as a child is born,” she said this week.
To encourage children to keep reading as they grow older, the kits come with a membership form for the nearest public library.
The state library will conduct training workshops for nurses to guide parents on using the kits.
There are similar initiatives in other countries, such as Bookstart in England and Wales which gives free books to children at the ages of 0-12 months and 3-4 years, and Reach Out and Read in the United States, through which doctors and nurses counsel parents on reading aloud and give a book to the child during routine health check-ups from infancy to age five.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends paediatricians to advise parents to read aloud with their children beginning in infancy until at least kindergarten age to strengthen parent-child relationships, develop language and reading proficiency and promote school readiness.
“In contrast to often either passive or solitary electronic media exposure, parents reading with young children is a very personal and nurturing experience that promotes parent-child interaction, social-emotional development, and language and literacy skills during this critical period of early brain and child development,” it said in a policy statement in 2014.
A Kids and Family Reading Report by Scholastic in 2016 found that 77% of parents with children below five years old started reading aloud to their child before they turned one while 40% began when their child was below three months old.
Children and parents also agreed that they enjoyed reading books aloud together, with over 70% saying it was a special time and over 60% saying reading together was fun.
And Second Time Around Books, which puts on an annual festival of secondhand books in Kuching, says reading aloud with young children comes with the bonuses of happy bonding between children and parents and giving children a head start in early literacy, reading ability and English proficiency.
With the data and experience showing the importance of reading aloud, the state library’s reading kit distribution is a step in the right direction to encourage this practice among parents.
Perhaps it can also follow up with parents to make sure that they are reading aloud with their children and to recommend more books or promote library membership as the children grow, in order to nurture and develop proficient, lifelong readers.