Scéalta – The Early Childhood Ireland Blog

< Back to Blog

Books and stories are important in the early years


Tuesday 24 September 2019

If you were told that you could improve your child’s imagination, thinking ability, vocabulary, oral language, literacy skills, interpersonal relationships, empathy, attachment, and have great fun at the same time, you would rush to sign up for such an amazing programme. Imagine if you were told that you can do it yourself and it’s free? So, ‘what is this magic and where can I get some?’, you would ask.

Reading aloud to babies and young children will do all the above and more, and if you have access to a library, it can be completely free. Meghan Cox Gurdon says on page xiii of her 2019 book ‘The Enchanted Hour’:

‘A miraculous alchemy takes place when one person reads to another, one that converts the ordinary stuff of life – a book, a voice, a place to sit, and a bit of time – into astonishing fuel for the heart, the mind, and the imagination’.

Gurdon cites recent neuroscience to provide evidence that reading aloud can have ‘dazzlingly transformative’ effects on the brains of babies and young children. As they listen to a story and look at pictures and can interact with the person reading, their deep brain networks are stimulated, and their cognitive development is optimised. Because being read to is a warm and nurturing experience, empathy can be developed, and this, according to research, dramatically accelerates young children’s language acquisition and sets them on track to be ahead of their peers in school. As a former infant teacher, I can attest to this – the children who were read and spoken to, had language abilities that helped them in all kinds of developmental ways.

Being read aloud to and given the opportunity to chat about the book immerses us in words, visual images and in rhythms and cadences of speech that might not be available elsewhere. When I read ‘Kate and the Beanstalk’ to my then three-year-old nephew, we heard that Kate’s mother was in despair. We spoke about the word and I explained it as being ‘so sad you can’t think of anything happy’. We read books about treasure chests and avocado babies and knights in shining armour; about dinosaurs, sleepy animals, gruffalos, scarecrows and giants. We knew ‘Not Last Night but the Night Before’ off by heart. This last meant there were many pleasurable intertextual links made with well-known nursery rhymes.

Rhyming books are essential for pre-schoolers. The rhymes and catchy rhythms are universally appealing. They introduce babies to a shared culture, and they are a wonderful form of shared connection. They are easy to remember, and babies get great feedback when they supply an approximation of the key word. Imagine the scene: adult says ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on the?’ baby supplies ’Waw!’ and everyone claps. Babies learn the pleasure and the power of repetition and the amazing payoff of the accompanying gestures and actions. Who does not recall the ‘do it again’ factor of reciting ‘Round and round the garden, catch the teddy bear’ or ‘This is the way the ladies ride’?

Picture books like ‘Peck Peck Peck’, ‘Hooray for Fish’ and ‘A Busy Day for Birds’, by Lucy Cousins, provide endless, interactive fun. Books like ‘Let’s Talk About Vehicles’ by Ronnie Randall and Britta Teckentrup can be superb sources of vocabulary development: ‘We ROLL on wheels! We FLOAT on water! We SKIM over ice and SOAR in the air.’

Traditional stories can scare, reassure and provide endless sources of discussion. Is Jack a hero? Should Goldilocks be punished?  Why didn’t The Little Red Hen’s friends help her?

Your local library will be invaluable. Put out the word to godparents, aunties, uncles and grandparents that book tokens make great presents. Then take the time to read – just ten minutes a day will change your child’s life. I’ll leave the last words to Mem Fox, from pages xii-xiii of her 2001 book, ‘Reading Magic’:

Children who realise in their first weeks and months of life that listening to stories is the purest heaven; who understand that books are filled with delights, facts, fun and food for thought; who fall in love with their parents, and their parents with them, while stories being shared; and who are read aloud to for ten minutes a day in their first five years, usually learn to read quickly, happily and easily. And a whole lot of goodness follows for the entire community.  



Dr Mary Roche is an education consultant. Passionate about the importance of dialogical pedagogy, literacy and children’s books in education, she is frequently invited to be a keynote speaker in Ireland and the UK. A former education lecturer and classroom teacher, Mary is the author of ‘Developing Children’s Critical Thinking through Picturebooks’ (Routledge 2015). A bookworm, she is at her happiest when immersed in good children’s literature.


2 comments Comments

2 Responses

  1. Lilian Joyce says:

    A wonderful reminder of how reading to babies and children impacts so positively on their development and learning,particularly on emotional development.

  2. Lilian Joyce says:

    A wonderful reminder of how reading to babies and children impacts so positively on their development and learning,particularly on emotional development. Some unfamiliar books to look out for too, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Please Log In to comment:

relationships(18) Light table(1) Identity and Belonging(4) EM Standing(1) pablo(1) communication(4) Time(1) bloom app(1) Study Trip(1) Time Out(1) Universal Design(2) Laugh(1) Santa(2) School Age Childcare(1) Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland(1) Brain(1) scéalta(51) Breathing(2) Children's Rights(3) SPICE Framework(1) animals(2) Design(1) Small World Play(1) Sculptures(1) PIP(1) Childcare Barometer 2018(1) Italy(1) Communications(1) food(1) Biting(1) Afghanistan(1) Window(1) Valerie Gaynor(1) Early Learning and Care Centres(1) Playschool(1) social media(1) Vietnam(1) Employee(1) MA(1) Weather(1) Easter(1) memories(1) Pre-School Services(1) Family(1) Child Care(1) Buddy Bench(1) Eritrea(1) learners(1) National Annual Awards 2020(1) Summer(1) code of ethics(1) Youtube Series(1) Blocks(1) Kerry(1) Love(3) early childhood educator(2) books(4) Awards 2019(1) Cognitive development(1) staying connected(1) Effect of Lockdown(1) ICBN(1) developing motor skills(1) online training(1) Síolta Quality Assurance programme(1) Little Buddies(1) christmas(9) GoToMeeting app(1) racism(1) awards 2020(1) Early Years Education(1) Snakes(1) European Project(1) COVID-19 landscape(1) Quality(4) Childhood(1) Mealtimes(1) Policy(2) National Pyjama Day(1) COVID-19(13) World Health Organisation(1) Exploring(1) ears(1) Research Conference 2019(1) risky play(2) conference(1) Seas Suas(1) coronavirus(1) New Appointments(1) reopening(1) Book Club(2) Story(2) Educator of the Year Award(3) Support(1) Super Shed Stories(2) Trick or treat(1) Gardening(1) Consent(1) Department of Education and Skills(1) Mathematicians(1) Jenga(1) Adverse Childhood Experiences(1) Visual Impairment(1) baby room(1) Interactions(3) Patterns(1) Thank you(1) Names(1) GDPR(1) Environment(2) Change(1) babies(7) Fabric(1) Decision Making(1) Return to Work Training(1) Academics(1) Christmas Creativity(2) Craft(1) Reggio Children Network(1) Snacks(1) First 5 strategy(1) Budget 2020(1) Teamwork(1) democracy(1) Research and Professional Learning(1) play pods(2) Running(1) Sustainable(1) Meet the Members(1) Covid pandemic(2) MECPI(1) Learning Journal(2) Buddies(1) Elders(1) Toby Bears Camping Trip(1) education(2) Intention(1) Universal Design Guidelines(1) planning(1) Certificate(1) Independence(1) inspiring interactions(1) Thinking(1) Through the looking glass(1) Bereavement(2) Albert Einstein(1) Learning Stories(9) Jillian van Turnhout(1) Sport(1) social science(1) Favouritism(1) annual awards(1) Touch(1) Anthony Semann(1) imotion(1) Potential(1) Celebrations(4) Aldo Fortunati(4) ECEC(3) Maths Week Ireland(1) peer group(1) Culture(2) Creativity(5) child-centric(1) Queues(1) Participation(2) code of professional responsibility(1) Routines(2) Scéalta Blog(103) Oireachtas(1) Trade Unions(1) Map(1) Reggio Emilia(2) Horizon 2020(1) Line-ups(1) Primary School(2) Ariana Pucci(1) community(5) Dr. Emer Ring(1) documentation(4) man up(1) Digital Devices(1) science(3) Mixed age groups(3) parents(6) ELC(1) budget(1) Reopening Childcare(1) UN(1) under 3's(3) Drawing(2) UNICEF report(1) Aistear Siolta in Action(1) Inspirational(2) child-centred approach(1) Early Childhood Ireland(7) Norway(2) Awards 2018(3) Rich Documentation(1) pets(1) Painting(1) Siolta blog(8) The Play and Learning in the Early Years(1) United Nations(1) Facebook(1) Self-regulation(1) Sequins(1) Smiles(1) CPD(1) Laughter(1) Investment(2) Titles(1) Exit interview(1) DES Inspection(1) Workforce(1) eating(1) Family wall(1) University(1) stories(3) Early Childhood Ireland National Awards(2) IGL(1) Minister for Children and Youth Affairs(1) mental health problems(1) Inspiring Practice(1) Pedagogical leaders(1) Educator Award - Leader in Practice(1) early childhood(1) Pobal sector profile(1) Professionalisation(5) Diversity(1) Qualifications(1) Vivian Gussin Paley(1) Arlene Forster(1) Care routines(1) Degree(1) Síolta(132) Workplace Relations(3) National Council for Curriculum and Assessment(1) Xbox(1) preschool settings(1) Sociodramatic play(1) Malaguzzi(1) Behaviour(3) purpose(1) Supernanny(1) Leadership for INClusion in the Early Years(1) Maynooth University(2) Rituals(1) Winter(1) First 5 transitions for children award(1) Sweets(1) story time(2) emotional environment(2) STEM(3) Covid19 crisis(1) early years research(2) Reggio(1) experience(1) june29(1) Prexit(1) Wrapping paper(1) democratic citizens(1) Large Doll Play(1) Maths Week(1) Empathy(1) mushrooms(1) Belonging(3) Counting(1) outdoor space(3) Training(2) RIE philosphy(1) Loving Relationships(2) Mud kitchens(1) Workplace well-being(1) Twitter(1) Special Needs Assistants(1) Irish guidelines(1) Engineering Ireland(1) Spiders(1) Book Review(1) risk assessment(1) AsIAm(2) Vertical grouping(1) outdoors(4) Maths(6) Inter-generational(2) Aistear Siolta Practice Guide(1) UNCRC(2) Leadership(1) Inspired Practice Awards(1) Liz Kerrins(1) Frosty the Snowman(1) Reading Time(1) risk(2) children development(1) Montessori(3) Seanchaí(1) children’s learning(1) Anxiety(2) Online(1) value(1) Socioemotional development(1) Valentine's Day(3) Social Skills(1) The Lullaby Book(1) National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education(1) educarer(1) maternity health(1) The Jelly King(1) Shoes(1) Iraq(1) Pretend Play(1) Performance Management(1) Health(2) Inter-generational learning(2) Traffic Lights(1) dogs(1) Plastic(1) emotions(2) Halloween(2) worries(1) NCCA(3) DCYA(6) Fee Play(1) learning(19) Mo Scéal(1) Minister Katherine Zappone(1) National Childcare Scheme(1) overhear(1) conversations(1) listen(1) life long learning(1) Maternity Leave(1) Loss(1) Emergent Curriculum(1) Exploratory Play(1) International Narratives(1) refugees(1) Capable(1) Shapes(2) play pod(1) play(35) Inspections(1) keezy(1) National Bereaved Children's Awareness Week(1) family time(1) Department of Children and Youth Affairs(2) development(8) Art(6) Equality(1) trust(4) role playing(1) Engineers Week(2) Stress(2) Games(1) Grief(1) First 5(1) Giraffe(2) Growing up Outdoors(1) childcare services(1) primary education(1) Engagement(1) EECERA 2016(1) Awards Night(1) science week(2) Partnership with Families Innovation Award(2) Kids Own(1) Arts(1) Infectious diseases(1) Gratitude(1) routine(2) Providing Leadership to the First 5(1) Mark Twain(1) Reflective Practice(1) Body Language(1) Treasure(1) Graduate(1) Trauma-Sensitive(1) Iceland(1) Graduation(1) Aistear(128) Upcycling(1) Human Resources(1) Recycling(2) Mindfulness(3) Educator - Leader in Practice Award(1) Scents(1) COVID-19 Reopening(2) Mount Everest(1) dublin(2) Photographs(1) UD(1) Competent(1) Nuturing interactions(1) Annual Conference 2017(2) Educators(2) Identity(5) Building Resilience(1) Inclusion(3) Interaction(1) Plants(1) Ceremony(1) Covid response(2) healthy eating policies(1) Online Research Symposium(1) Meal time(1) Budget 2018(1) Policy and Implementation Panel(1) Your place(1) educating(1) research(6) linc(1) ECIAwards20(1) Proceedings Journal(1) ERASMUS+(3) gender bias(1) aistear blog(3) Early Years Educators(3) Learning journals(1) preschool(4) learning hub(1) reopening ireland(1) Penguins(1) blog(48) Learning through Storytelling(1) Interests(1) Inspired Practice Award(5) Autism(4) Cork Institute of Technology(1) responsive relationships(1) education system(1) Affordability(1) play therapy(1) Early Childhood Care and Education(2) Sleep(1) Advocacy(1) Decisions(1) Lego(2) toddlers(3) supportive environments(2) friendships(1) Community involvement(1) Treasure Chest(1) Traditions(2) Our Little Seed(1) Technology(3) Settling in(4) Nonverbal(1) Scéalta Book Review(1) Japan(1) TRAP(1) feisty(1) emotional well-being(1) General Data Protection Regulation(1) Rising to the Challenge(2) Trade union(1) Digital(1) Home Corner(1) environments(1) Awards(2) COVID-19 crisis(1) early life(1) Care-giving routines(1) Leargas(1) collaboration(1) Celebrate(1) Self-Esteem(1) Magda Gerber(1) Glitter(2) journey(1) behavioural science(1) Appreciation(1) CIT(1) Challenges(1) outdoor play(6) Maria Montessori(1) Pedagogy(2) Wilenski(1) apps for children(1) Self Help Skills(1) creche(1) Feeding(1) Exercise(1) Recycle(1) Irish Childhood Bereavement Network(1) play stories(2) Engineering(3) Dr Mary O'Kane(1) Learning Story Awards(2) Flowers(1) Children(4) annual conference(1) lockdown(1) Budget 2019(2) Storytelling(7) NAEYC(1) Trigonometry(1) AIM(2) Obesity(1) Well-Being(10) Performing(1) Positivity(1) Administrative Burden(1) reading(5) respect(5) Limerick(1) ECCE(7) early years learning(1) Fantasy play(1) Together Old and Young Programme(1) transitions(10) Staff Motivation(1) Thanks(1) Margy Whalley(1) Event Guide(1) Wendy Lee(3) outdoor environment(1) meals(3) Arithmetic(1) listening(1) Impact(1) Mantra(1) Deirdre Rogers(1) Funding(1) structure(1) Visitors(1) Research Seminar(1) Leprechauns(1) National Awards 2018(2) art of the relationship(1) UN Sustainable Development Goals(1) Leaders in Practice(1) Magnavacchi(1) Masterclass(2) Children and families(1) Learning Stories Award(3) Early Childhood Ireland’s National Early Childhood Research Conference 2019(1) Exclusion(1) Frustrations(1) Syria(1) keep in touch(1) Whole Group(1) Magic(1) HR(1) Access and Inclusion Model(2) Infection Control(1) Confident(1) Motor neuron disease(1) Role play(1) learning bias(1) National Research Conference 2019(1) ReCreate(2) dining(1) Sessional service(1) TOY Programme(1) Sustainability(3) Cork(1) youdoodle(1) Exploring and Thinking(1) Pobal(1) Mental Health(4) Wesco(1) Nutrition(1) Yoga(1) Pen green(1) National Awards 2019(1) Children's Voice(1) Builders(1) San Miniato(4) Orla Kenny(1) gender stereotype(1) Playdough(1) European Early Childhood Education Research Association(2) EECERA(1) RTE Investigates(1) St. Patrick's Day(1) grandchild(1) College(1) iOS(1) dining experiences(1) phone apps(1) curiosity(3) INTO(1) Dance(1) Snack Time(1) Child mental health(1) Irish Early Years Research & Practice Seminar 2018(1) interacting(2) Early Learning and Care(1) Maynooth(1) Irish(1) National Holiday(1) movement behaviours(1) Confidence(1) research submissions(1) Tuscan Approach(2) Children's Research Network(1) Mayo(1) CCTV(1) National Early Childhood Research Conference(1) show and tell(1) ECEC Setting(2) LINC Award for Leadership in Inclusion(2) Opportunities(1) Childcare(3) Kilkenny(1) Hand Hygiene(2) curriculum(5) Annual Conference 2019(1) Document Learning(1) Equality & Inclusion Guidelines Training(1) bonds(1) Party(1) SAC(1) Imagination(3) Adoption(1) Early Years(1) Communicating(1) Síolta QAP(1) Creative(1) Wonder(1) E.coli(1) Death(2) Relaxation(1) Learning Story(1) Growing up in Ireland(3) continual professional development(1) Academic Skills(1) Music(3)


Site maintained and developed by Cloud Nine