Article published in the Reader’s Gazette 17/02/16
My son, James, is now 21. He is no angel, he is not perfect, but he is mine! There have been times over the years when I could have happily strangled him and other times when he has made me feel very proud. What he is, is a very articulate, well-spoken young man who has been able to hold complicated conversations with people from an early age.
I think that my mother got it right when she told me, years ago, that being a parent is the only job in the world for which there is no training. Us parents instinctively do what we feel is right, as we watch our children grow up. There is one thing that I am absolutely certain to have done in the right way and that is reading to my son every day when he was young.
I have lived in Italy for 25 years and my husband is Italian so when James was born I spoke to him only in English and his father only in Italian. We were a bit worried that this might hinder his language development skills but it did not and he was soon happily chatting in both languages. My mother was wonderful and sent an English book for James nearly every week, for each age group that he reached, from baby to teenager. So, although he grew up bi-lingual, his language skills were stimulated more in English for the early years and then, once he started school he began to read in Italian too.
When he was a baby James would drag big books to me, climb onto my lap and nestle up for a story. We also read stories every night when he was tucked up in bed. I would lay alongside him and read while he followed the words with his finger. When he got old enough to read by himself but was not yet hooked on reading, I would limit our story to one chapter and leave him desperate to find out what happened next. I told him he could read a bit more by himself but that my voice was going and so he began to take over and read to me. That was all it took to create an avid reader.
Many of my friends are of mixed marriages like mine or English couples who live and work in Italy, with children more or less that same age as James. None of them have bi-lingual children. Even if the children grew up hearing both languages they are all far better at Italian than English. Why should this be? Some of the parents worked all day so their children may have spent more time in nursery schools or with Italian relatives than James, but he also went to nursery school from the age of three. Some others had the same type of circumstances as us. The only difference that I can find is that none of these people read to their children very often.
I have other friends who are British and have lived all their lives in the UK. With only one language for their children to learn, their teenagers are also less articulate than James was at their age. They also have parents who do not read much themselves and hardly ever read to them. These children have a rather limited vocabulary and their language skills are poor. Those children whose parents are readers and who love books themselves are undoubtedly more able to join in adult conversations, try out different words and express themselves well.
My conclusion is that reading to your children not only opens up their minds and imaginations, it also gives them a set of important skills which will help them enormously in their lives. So, read to your children every chance you get!
Not only do you help improve their futures by reading them a good book, you also create wonderful memories, of warm, snuggly, word-warmed moments.
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Images used for this article include Storytime Drawing