• Rachel

The power of reading real story books

"Mummy, Mummy! I read a real story book!" It's never too soon to 'read' real books. We play pirates, teachers, doctors, vets, but do we play at being readers?

In my one to one lessons, I like to introduce real books as soon as I can as it gives children such a boost to know they are doing real reading and it's not all about Biff, Chip and Kipper!

Carefully chosen books, like Please Mr Panda ( or Puffin Peter ( enable the reader to recognise the repeated words and therefore experience fluency in their reading and begin using their 'story voice.' Feeling like they are really reading is as powerful as, (if not even more valuable than), trawling through the words and sounding them all out. There's a lot of groundwork to do before they get to this stage, though, and by exposing our children to books, we are starting this at home when they are tiny.

When our eldest child was two, he was reciting stories like the Gruffalo and What the Ladybird Heard, turning the pages like he was reading them. He'd learnt the stories from the CDs we played in the car and retold them excitedly, sometimes using words he thought he'd heard, even if they were not the correct ones. He thought he was reading!

Our youngest child didn't do this. She enjoyed stories, and loved to listen to them in the car. However, with an older sibling, she didn't have as much chance to listen to the stories often enough to learn them by heart. Her reading journey has been a little different, but she actually read 'real' books sooner than her brother. Each child is different!

Real story books can help the reading journey in some of the following ways:

  • When children are read to from a very young age (long before they learn to talk), they are exposed to story structures, a huge range of vocabulary, rhyme, alliteration, understanding and much, much more.

  • Holding books the right way up, turning the pages carefully and pointing to the pictures form part of the assessment stages that children will go through at nursery. Being comfortable with books is an essential early skill. I once went to a nursery where young children did not have real books because staff said they just tear the pages - they won't learn not to tear them if they are not shown how to be careful with books.

  • Children can copy the adults when looking through their books, practising the story telling voices they use, their intonation, expression, emotions and pauses.

  • When adults point out larger print words like CRASH! ZOOOOOM or POP! children begin to learn that print carries meaning and may be able to identify these as words, 'reading' what they say, before they know anything more about letters and the sounds they make.

  • The pictures help children to understand and then to order and retell the story. Talking about the pictures when reading together draws attention to them, and to any extra meaning that can be tweaked out.

  • Learning a fun part of a story such as the list of foods in the picnic in Where's My Teddy? is a good way to learn a language structure and rhythm: 'lettuce, tomato, creamy cheese spread...'

  • Repetition, repetition, repetition is the key! Repeating the same stories with your child is tiring at times but it's working wonders for their reading development.

  • Sharing a story, at whatever age, is comforting for children. They begin to associate stories with happy times and can apply this to their own reading when they are older.

It's important to remember that learning to read the actual words on the page is hard. Lots of children struggle with phonics and 'computer voices' are the norm when they're sounding out and blending to read every word. Practising being a real story teller, whether they are reading the words or making them up, can really help to develop fluency further down the reading road. Grab a book, snuggle down and model away!

Pick of the bookshelf:

These books might be useful starting points for children reading real story books. Do comment if you have more to add to this list!

The Loudest Roar

We're Going on a Bear Hunt

Please Mr Panda

Thank you Mr Panda

I'll Wait, Mr Panda

Where's My Teddy?

Puffin Peter

Knuffle Bunny

The Gruffalo

What the Ladybird Heard

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