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Stories at home

Reading together in Blackwell's, Alice's Day 2012

Scroll down for suggestions for turning your home into a story home, with ideas for enjoying stories with children of different ages.

The story home

Home has a huge impact on children’s learning and especially their reading habits. Whatever your own skill level here are 5 simple ways that you can help your child, from babyhood to teens.

1. have fun

We all learn best when we’re enjoying ourselves. Go with the flow – pick stories and books that you both like and stop when you’ve had enough. If it’s play, not work, they’ll come back for more

2. keep talking

At every age you can boost your child’s language, learning and confidence by speaking and listening to them whenever you can. Young children find it much easier to learn language from their adults than from televisions or computers.

3.  do it yourself

If you want your child to enjoy books and stories let them see you enjoy them too. Look at books or magazines or newspapers when your children are around. Or listen to stories on CD or the radio. Your example is more powerful than you think.

4.  get some story stuff

Children who grow up in homes with stories and books learn faster. You can help by making sure your child always has a supply of suitable books or story CDs plus scrap paper and pencils, and a place to keep them. You can borrow books and CDs for free from your local library.

5. give it time

It takes many years for a child to become a fluent speaker and listener, reader and writer. You can help by making peaceful time for this learning – time to talk, time to hear you read or tell stories, time – if they wish – to get lost in a book on their own. Don’t rush: just enjoy each stage for as long as it lasts.

Ted enjoys storytelling on Alice's Day 2013

Ted enjoys storytelling on Alice’s Day 2013

baby: 0-1 years

From before birth babies start to tune into the sounds and rhythms of language. In their first year of life they learn to recognise and respond to familiar voices, words and phrases and their own names. Babies love to hear simple songs and stories and rhymes and to look at picture books and handle board books on their own. Gradually they begin to babble back to their carer and this turn-taking is the beginning of conversation.

5 story activities

  • Teach first words by chatting to your baby about what you are doing, pointing out and naming things and people as you go. You’ll instinctively use a sing-song voice, which is fine.
  • When your baby babbles, smile and agree – “yes, it’s a cat,” – stressing a clearer version of the word they were trying to say.
  • Repeat. Babies love repetition, of stories, songs, rhymes, picture books and games. This helps them make vital connections in their brains.
  • Give your baby board books – in the buggy or car, on the changing mat or playing on the floor. They’ll gradually progress from chewing them to turning the pages and talking to the pictures. Books can keep them amused while you’re shopping or waiting somewhere.
  • Play talking games with puppets or toys. Animal noises and peepo! are always favourites.

toddler: 1-2 years

Toddlers are continually building an understanding of language and of life through their everyday interactions with their families and other people.

Between 1 and 2 years old toddlers learn to recognise many more words as well as different tones of voice. They begin to say words, phrases or even sentences and to communicate their thoughts and needs with words.

5 story activities

  • Chat about what you are both doing, where you are going and how you are feeling. Ask questions and take the time to listen to your child’s responses. He or she will enjoy being listened to and included in conversations.
  • Sing nursery rhymes and songs together or put them on the stereo. Add dancing and movement.
  • Play simple role-play games: pretend to be familiar people or animals or act out a simple story.
  • Enjoy a cuddle a couple of times a day while looking at pictures, catalogues and simple books, reading the story or talking about the pictures and characters. Toddlers love touch-and-feel, and flap books.
  • Put books in your child’s toy box and let him or her see you reading, to show they are important.

pre-school: 2-5 years

During these years, children develop the building blocks for creativity and storytelling, reading and writing. They are learning new words and ideas every day. They can take part in more complicated conversations and may ask lots of questions.

Children this age love listening to you telling or reading stories, and may enjoy story tapes. Stories help them make sense of the world around them and understand their feelings and other people’s. As their attention span grows they can enjoy longer stories and become increasingly absorbed in pretend games. They will start to scribble and draw and to make the link between spoken and written language, perhaps recognising individual letters, or words such as their name.

5 story activities

  • Try to listen and respond to what they are telling you, for these are their earliest stories, and keep talking back to them.
  • Play make-believe games with funny voices and actions. You can keep it simple or go to town – with toys and puppets, face paints and costumes.
  • Tell or read stories whenever you can – in the car or on the bus, at bathtime or bedtime. These will become special moments in your day.
  • Gather a mix of colourful and interesting reading materials to enjoy together. Follow the words with your finger, point out pictures and talk together about the story. Let your child turn the pages and guess what happens next.
  • Encourage them to scribble and draw and make ‘books’ of their own. Making these early marks will help them later with their writing. Help them to sign a gift card or write a simple list. Praise their efforts, no matter how imperfect!
Stories aren't just about reading - they can be about making and doing as well.

Stories aren’t just about reading – they can be about making and doing as well.

early school years: 5-7 years

Once at school, your child will be taught to read in class. This is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives and you can play a vital role in encouraging them. Your school may ask you to help your children work through their reading scheme but try not to let this be the only reading you do.

Reading at home is also about reading for pleasure, about helping your child discover the books and stories they enjoy. Some children read for the story – to find out what happens next. Others want ‘information’. Many boys prefer books of facts or tales about real people, places or inventions.

Even though the emphasis at this age may be on reading and writing, spoken words are still very important too. Having fun with songs and rhymes, pretend games, retelling or inventing stories, or just chatting, will develop your child’s language, thinking and confidence.

5 story activities

  • Continue reading aloud and telling stories – taking turns to read or tell as their skills develop. Leave books, comics and magazines around and give them as presents.
  • Try not to pressurise children about reading. Be patient and positive and keep homework sessions short if they find them hard.
  • Allow your child to choose their own reading material from a library, shop or catalogue. It may not always be what you would choose but they are more likely to read it. They may also want to return to picture books or familiar favourites, which is fine.
  • Make up stories together and turn them into shows or picture books, letters or diaries. Tell them stories of when you were their size.
  • Share the internet together. Visit Poetry Archive, Booktime or Storybird.

juniors: 7-11 years

Children in this age group vary widely in their interests and in their ability to read confidently. These are important years for helping your child become an independent reader. Research suggests that those who go on to enjoy reading – whether fact or fiction, books, magazines or online content – are likely to get better grades and jobs.

You can influence your child’s reading habits and attitudes – through your own example and attitudes, and by helping your child find reading materials they will enjoy. Showing an interest in the books they bring home from school will remind them that reading is important to you. Offering the widest possible range of books, comics and magazines, catalogues and online browsing, can inspire both the reluctant reader and the avid story consumer.

Audio, film, television and theatre productions can all introduce new stories to your child and may encourage them to read associated material. Stories are a great way to give advice and ideas to a young person who is dealing with difficult circumstances like disability, bullying, bereavement or family break-up.

5 story activities

  • Keep talking – and listening: children at this age can become less communicative. Try playing ‘tell me more’. They pick a subject, which could be as simple as their school day. As listener, all you can say is ‘tell me more’ when the moment seems right. You’ll be surprised how much you discover.
  • Get them started: it can be difficult getting going on a big book or story. Buy them a book on a subject that already fascinates them. Or read the first chapters aloud to get them hooked.
  • Let your child start asserting their own rights as a reader: to chose what they read and when, to stop or backtrack, to discuss or not, as they prefer.
  • Storymakers: you child may become more interested in the people behind the stories or in creating stories of their own. Show them how to find author websites or creative writing sites or visit Storybird.
  • Storytelling too: some children prefer to hear rather than read stories. Borrow audio tapes of children’s books or try out our audio stories.
Exploring the Tea With Alice exhibition, 2012

Exploring the Tea With Alice exhibition, 2012

early teens: 11-14 years

Your young teenager will be growing more independent and forming his or her own views. Nevertheless you can still do a great deal to help them achieve their potential by staying involved in their life and learning.

Pupils who enjoy reading generally do better at school than those who don’t. The challenge is to find reading material to suit your teen’s tastes and interests, while gently encouraging them to experiment and explore. If they are lucky they will have a teacher or librarian who inspires them to read

If not you can help by taking them to the library, bookshop or newsagent or helping them search online.

5 ways to keep your teen absorbing stories

  • Watch television together and discuss the latest news, sport, films, music, drama. They will learn to express their opinion and respect others’ and you can show them how to listen well.
  • Remember that reading comes in many forms. They may abandon novels during these years but this is less cause for concern if they are reading widely, be it online reference and reviews, song lyrics or hobby magazines.
  • Keep books in their life and encourage them to bring books on long journeys or on holiday.
  • Encourage them to explore storytelling in different forms – films, animations, drama, dance, art, stand-up comedy – and have a try at creating stories for themselves. Try to strike a balance between passively consuming screen content, and doing something more active.
  • But keep an eye on what they are consuming and who they are meeting online – the internet can be a risky place for unsupervised youngsters.

approaching adulthood: 15 plus

Let your child fly. Give stories as presents – in the form of books or subscriptions or tickets for performances. Share and discuss books and stories you’ve enjoyed and sample their suggestions. Let them navigate you round the latest digital media.

Help your teenager think through their own life story – which must soon be captured for a job or university application form. Celebrate the stories they create. But don’t divulge their childhood exploits to their friends!

Hopefully they’ll love stories for life.

With thanks to Amelia Foster for her advice.