Want to help your child get the best start in school, work and life? It’s as easy as three stories a day…

Every evening, between bath and bedtime, my three-year-old son Chase climbs onto my lap, and asks for stories.

No matter where we are, story time is a part of our routine, a time when we can forget the trials and tribulations of a busy toddler’s day – not to mention mine! Now my one-year-old Harmonie joins in with her own well-sucked baby books, and our weekly trips to the library to select new books is fun for all of us.

Of course, that’s not the only time we read. We read when we’re happy, or sad; when there’s ten minutes to spare before we have to be somewhere; when they’re sick and in need of some TLC; as a reward; and sometimes, importantly, just for fun.

My husband reads to the kids too, and when I see Chase with his nose stuck inside a newspaper – held upside down of course – or reading his own version of a favourite book to his sister, it’s one of the few times in our demanding job as parents, that we can be sure we’re doing something right.

Having been a bookworm my entire life, I always intended to read to my children. But it wasn’t until I was lucky enough to interview much-loved Australian writer Mem Fox that I realised how important reading was.
According to Mem, reading to our children is the answer to our country’s literacy problems, and she says that reading from an early age is vital.

“Children who have lived in book-filled homes prior to going to school are known to be scholastically advantaged for the rest of their lives,” she says. “And children who have memorised eight nursery rhymes by the age of three, so I have been told, are always the best readers by the age of eight.”

Reading helps prepare children for a lifetime of learning – and not just of words, but of figures, emotions, problem-solving, and creativity too. And best of all, no formal teaching experience on the part of parents is required.
“Children can learn to read easily without being taught, by being read to, by playing games with words, and by falling head over heels in love with books,” says Mem.

And she should know. As one of the world’s leading literacy experts, Mem has sold millions of books around the world. Her classic Possum Magic, beautifully illustrated by Julie Vivas, is Australia’s most popular picture book, and has been reissued 50 times to keep up with demand.

Experts agree that reading helps lay the foundations for a lifetime of learning, not just of words, but of feelings, emotions, and creativity as well. “Often a child learns to identify with emotions through animals in picture books,” explains Mem. “For example, one of my favourite books, Koala Lou is about sibling rivalry. There is a way of attributing thoughts and feelings to characters in books that may otherwise be too confronting for a child to deal with. So there is a lot of psychology behind it as well.”

Fellow prolific Australian writer, Paul Jennings, who has sold more than seven million books around the world, agrees. “Through stories our children can learn that there is no such thing as a bad nation,” he writes in his best-seller, The Reading Bug … And How You Can Help Your Child To Catch It. “Through stories they can share, however momentarily, a few pangs of hunger. Through stories they can see a little of what it is like to belong to a different culture. Through stories they can admire the greatest minds and the bravest souls. Through stories they can escape for a while into the world of laughter. They can fly to the stars. They can ride a broomstick. Or have teeth that glow in the dark.”

And through stories, I get to hold my precious children for a few minutes longer, and maybe help prepare them for the rest of their lives. Parenting doesn’t get much better than that!

Want to help your child get the best start in school, work and life? It’s as easy as three stories a day…

Mem’s tips include:

  1. Spend at least 10 wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud.
  2. Read at least three stories a day – preferably one favourite, one familiar and one new. But it can be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they learn to read!
  3. Read aloud with animation. Have fun and laugh a lot.
  4. Read the stories the kids love, over and over again.
  5. For young kids, look for rhyme, rhythm or repetition in books, and make sure the books are short!
  6. Read aloud every day because you just love being with your child, not because its the right thing to do.

Not sure where to start? Australia is blessed with wonderful children’s authors and illustrators. Libraries are excellent – and free – resources for parents and their kids, garage sales are a good source of cheap second-hand books; and keen readers can also form an unofficial lending library with friends. If you can afford it, it’s nice to buy your children copies of their favourite books to keep, or ask relatives to give books instead of toys for presents.
Take advantage of free or subsidised literary events in your area, like Queensland’s Somerset Festival of Literature, held each year (http://www.somerset.qld.edu/), where the kids can meet their favourite authors, attend readings, and enjoy activities with other readers.