Reading bedtime stories

When should I start reading to my child is a common question that parents ask. The answer is easy. The sooner you begin, the greater the love for reading and the more they learn. How do you read to a baby? Easy! Buy books with simple pictures (by simple I mean the pictures must have very little detail. Cardboard baby books are perfect for this! Show the baby the picture and describe what you see. “Look at the doctor” (point to the doctor) he has a white coat on” (point to the coat)” and move to the next picture: “Look at the cow. A cow says moo!” and move to the next picture. Reading a long story with lots of words and few pictures is boring and your baby will lose interest. You’ll know when your child is ready for longer stories and more detail.


Benefits of reading to/with your child:


1) First and foremost reading to your child is a daily opportunity to create a few minutes of

quality time spent together! This will be a time that your child looks forward to every day and

they will start asking for it. As part of a bedtime routine, it will also help them wind down after

a busy day;

2) Creates a love of books (which will eventually evolve into a love for reading). Young children

should be given the opportunity to play with books and be taught how to respect books.

Cardboard books are great for babies and toddlers until they are able to work with paper

pages in a careful and respectful manner;

3) Builds vocabulary. At first you are showing pictures and teaching your child the names of

objects. When you have progressed to reading actual stories it is important to explain words

that your child may not understand in a simple manner. It is very important to not only

describe a word once. So when you read the story you should explain the word. At the end of

the story you could discuss the word again and give your child the opportunity to tell you

what it means before explaining it again. Giving synonyms also work great for this purpose!

4) Enhances memory. Most parents will go through a phase of reading the same story night after

night after night. In our house we are currently stuck on ‘The three little pigs’. After hearing

the story a few times children will begin to remember the story and can help you ‘read’ it. You

could even ask your child to ‘read’ their version of it to you;

5) Improves comprehension. Ask questions while reading or after reading your story! The level

of difficulty will depend on the age of the child. “what colour was little red riding hoods’ coat?”

or “name 3 items that she had in her basket?”.  As your child’s listening and memory improves

the question can become a bit harder. This process is also very important when your child

starts reading on their own;

6) Creates the awareness that words that you say are related to symbols on a page. Especially

when you point to the words as you read them;

7) Children may begin to recognise sight words that you read often such as: and, the, a, an, I

8) They will become interested in reading the stories themselves. This is great for additional

reading when they go to school and will improve their reading and comprehension and

enhance their vocabulary.


Another important thing to do is discuss the pictures and ask your child what they think it going to happen. “I don’t know” is not allowed as an answer. Let them guess! Why? Because it encourages them to think, it teaches them to describe what they see, it helps with communication and once again to increase their vocab!


To excel at school children should be able to read fluently and with accuracy but more importantly they need to understand what they read. Children are finding it harder to read due to a variety or reasons. Many children read but have no idea what they are reading because they are so focused on decoding and making sense of the words that they are not paying any attention to the meaning of the words strung together. So ask questions!


REMEMBER: Children cannot learn for tests if they cannot read the work and they cannot remember the content if they do not understand what they are reading!


There are many books with short bedtime stories that take 5 to 10 minutes. If your child wants to read a longer story and you don’t really have the time, compromise and read half of it tonight and the other half tomorrow! Reading bedtime stories is not only for fun, it is an important part of growing up and has so much educational value. It is never too late to start!


Reading Readiness

Children need to acquire a variety of skills before they are ready to read. On average, these skills are mastered and children are ready to read between the ages of 5 and 7. As with all skills and milestones, some children reach them a bit earlier and some a bit later. It assumed that all children are ready to start reading in Grade 1 which is unfortunately not the case. Children who are not ready struggle to grasp the concepts of reading. They do not recognise the sounds and letters, they cannot put them together to make words and they don’t attach meanings to the words that they may learn to read. These learners may be anxious because they do not understand the symbols on the page, it makes absolutely no sense to them at all. The reality is that many of these learners then lose interest in reading because it is difficult and it doesn’t make them feel well. Anxious learners may try to avoid reading at all cost, they may say that they don’t know how to read, they may fidget and squirm, them may keep looking away from the page or just look at the book quietly without saying a word. Some anxious kids may say that their heads hurt, they are nauseous or that their tummy aches.  These learners may get misdiagnosed with ADD or ADHD due to their inability to sit still and wondering eyes.


What are the signs of reading readiness?

  • Your child pages through a book and pretends to read the story by looking at the pictures.
  • They pretend to write may making symbols and squiggles on pages. They may also be able to ‘read’ their writing.
  • They show an extreme interest and willingness to learn reading. They ask what letter is this or what does this say.  They show enthusiasm and are actively involved during story time.
  • Your child needs to show listening comprehension skills and be able to retell stories that have been read to them in their own words as well as answer simple questions about the stories.
  • He/she should hold the book the right way, turn pages from left to right and understand that a person reads from left to right and from the top to the bottom of the page.  Handling the book gently and without ripping pages.
  • Furthermore, your child will show an immense interest in words and letters and have print awareness. Print awareness refers to the ability to understand that the symbols on the page make sounds and that the sounds put together create words.
  • When a learner is ready to read they will also show phonological awareness. This demonstrates an understanding of the sound structure of words by rhyming simple words, clapping syllables and identifying the beginning and end sounds of words.  They may also make up their own rhymes.
  • Knowing the alphabet and sounds and recognising some of the letters in print.
  • A child should also demonstrate the ability to recite a short paragraph that is read to them showing that they understand one-to-one correspondence during reading.


What happens if a child is pushed to read when they are not ready? They struggle. They fall behind and they hate reading. They are slow and almost never finish their work. They become anxious and avoid reading at all cost. They are so busy encoding and decoding that they do not understand what they read and this in turn causes challenges when they are required to study for tests. They may also struggle with spelling, sentence construction and writing paragraphs or stories.


How do we help these children? Whether we like it or not, children are required to learn to read in Grade 1. There are a variety of methods that a school may chose to use to teach reading to learners. All have their positives and negatives and some work better for some children than for others. As parents and educators we need to put in a lot of extra work. Not to push the children and force them to reach a milestone prematurely but to encourage them to keep on trying. Read stories, have them handle and play with books (respectfully), play fun games (to teach phonics, rhyming words and syllables) and just encourage a love of reading.




Extra classes?

Sometimes parents are told that their children are not coping in class and that additional help is needed. There could be a variety of reasons that your child struggles. It could be that your child is performing at his/her best ability, your child may experience learning difficulties that no one has noticed, they may be bored or over-stimulated or there may simply be too many distractions during class time. Your child may be a practical learner and the lessons may be presented in auditory/visual ways not giving your child enough time to figure it out during hands-on activities. In South-Africa many classes are too full and there are too many distractions, teachers are pressured with time and tedious amounts of admin that take time away from teaching. No matter the reason, a recommendation may be made that a learner needs tutoring or remedial intervention.


When it comes to basic literacy or math, parents either try to help the learners themselves or send the children to their class teacher for extra help. Although both these avenues make sense to some extent I recommend sending these learners to a third party such as Little Genius.


Children who experience challenges at school normally also experience low self-esteem, anxiety or fear (it could be for a number of reasons) and they feel ashamed that their friends are performing better than they are. At some point children realize that they work slower or get lower marks than their friends. Using a third party, like Little Genius, is preferred because:


1) It is a new environment without any expectations (reduces anxiety);

2) Little Genius helps the learners without pressure and do not set time limits to their progress (reduces  anxiety);

3) Little Genius uses techniques that are not used at school and that parents often do not have access to;

4) Learners may be afraid of their class teachers which hinders the learning process;

5) During your child’s lesson, the focus will be on the challenges that your child experiences. There will be no interruptions by other staff, ringing school bells and so forth.


There are so many options when it comes to remedial intervention and/or tutoring. What to look for when deciding on the right option for your child:


1) What qualifications do the teachers/tutors have? Have they gone for any additional training?

2) How much experience does the teacher/tutor have?

3)Do they use a set programme or are they able to adapt to meet the needs of your specific child?

4) Are they flexible in terms of content and activities?

5) Do they stay up to date with curriculum changes and new research that has been done or do they follow the same programme year after year?

6) Does the teacher/tutor and child click? Although this may not seem important, it plays a vital role in the education of your child. Children need to be comfortable in their environment and with their teachers. If they are uncomfortable, it may cause anxiety which decreases the learning opportunities. At some point, everyone has a teacher that they do not like and sadly that is reflected in your marks…

7) Does the teaching methods cater for every learner and can it be easily adapted during a lessons?


Don’t be shy to ask these questions! Remedial lessons/tutors are pricey and as a parent wanting to give their children the best, you need to know what you are paying for.


So why are remedial lessons so expensive? Each child experiences a different challenge. Although many children struggle to read, there could literally be hundreds of reasons why they struggle. A good teacher will pick up what the problem is after a few sessions and adapt or create material suited for your child. So when paying your remedial teacher you are not only paying for the time that your child is physically with the teacher, you are also paying for hours of preparation and research so that your child can receive the best help and intervention possible. Preparing individualized lessons, tasks and activities take hours and although some of these can be adapted, to change or alter these activities also take time and resources that could have been used to assist other learners. Besides for this, your remedial teacher should be a qualified professional and parents pay for their knowledge, skills and experience.


Once a teacher has recommended intervention please find a remedial teacher to assist your child as soon as possible. The teacher works with 15 to 30 or sometimes even 40 children per class per day and will definitely notice if your child is not on the the level of his/her peers. If the teacher notices, it is only a matter of time before your child realises it too.


Help your child become the best little person that they can be!