Why book sharing is about much more than literacy

The number of books in the home, and children’s early exposure to stories is often used to predict literacy and how a child will learn to read. But while reading to children is an important activity, it’s not a guarantee they will learn to read. But it certainly will help.

When we talk about reading to children, what comes to mind? There are lots of different situations where children will have stories read with or to them. Chances are, children will participate in a range of different story sharing experiences – group time at nursery, during a Bookbug Session, quality time playing at home, or the ever-cherished bedtime story. All of these experiences may vary as adults adapt their reading style and book choices to suit the mood and goal of the activity.

In each of these experiences, children are taking away something different. Joining in at home, a parent might be able to link the book to the child’s experiences and thoughts. One-to-one reading (or small group sharing) gives even more opportunity for children to look closely at pictures and involving children in a discussion – digressing from the story, taking turns and initiating conversations, and inviting the child to predict what's going to happen next.

A story during a group session, like a Bookbug Session might be a different experience again. Children might not be able to see the finer details in the pictures but they will enjoy listening to the book. Children will still benefit from hearing and joining in with the story and their adults might pick up new book sharing techniques, or be inspired to try something new based on how their child reacts. And listening to the story together also gives the perfect chance for children and their grown-ups to enjoy a nice cuddle.

Using books as a springboard for play and learning can help children develop a deeper understanding of stories.

In nursery, there can be more scope for follow-up games and activities which help children connect with stories on a different level. Using books as a springboard for play and learning can help children develop a deeper understanding of stories.  

And no matter who is sharing the book, one of the most noted benefits of book sharing is the opportunity to develop and expand vocabulary. Books expose children to rich language as they generally contain more rare words and more complex sentences than we usually use with children. Much like the language we hear is an important part of learning to speak, the words and sentence structures we encounter in stories expand our language ability – all of which benefit our speaking, reading and writing skills.

All of these experiences are valuable and help to lay down the foundations of literacy and motivate a child’s interest in stories. It develops and expands their language knowledge and gives children quality time building relationships with a range of people. They learn how books work – which way the text goes, how to hold a book and turn the pages. And they offer the chance for children to learn about new places, people or things – and to develop their imagination. A book is so much more than words on the page, and all these experiences will support a child to learn to read – when the time is right. 

Tracy Cooper

Tracy Cooper is Early Years Programme Development Manager at Scottish Book Trust. Tracy develops a range of practical and hands-on training to support the Bookbug Programme, including recent research and best practice ideas. She also provides conference presentations.