The Importance of Reading in Child Development | Western Cape Government


The Importance of Reading in Child Development

5 February 2020

Today is World Read Aloud Day. Already in its 11th year of celebration in over 173 countries, it calls attention to reading aloud and sharing stories as a cornerstone for child development, as well as an opportunity to teach children the joy of reading. 

In South Africa, it is estimated that 74% of 10 year-olds cannot read for meaning and closer to home, in the Western Cape, an estimated 50% of 10 year-olds cannot read for meaning.  A key intervention in addressing this issue, is that readiness to learn starts in the womb and the first 1000 days of a child's life are crucial to later development and reading. 

Reading interventions can start as early as possible, by sharing stories, books and rhymes. Unborn babies can hear your voice from around the 18th week of pregnancy and can recognise their mother’s voice before they are born. It is therefore recommended to sing rhymes and tell stories to your unborn baby as often as possible. Not only is reading to your baby and young child crucial for their development, it also strengthens the bond between parent and child. Find somewhere quiet away from noise, TV and mobile phones to make the experience of reading with your child special and beneficial.

Tips for reading together for 0-12 month old babies

  • Take time with your baby to look and talk about the pictures in the book.
  • Give our baby a chance to help you to “read” by pointing to pictures and letting them respond with sounds and words.
  • Don’t be shy to use animal noises or sound effects as this brings the story to life for your baby.
  • Listening to your voice is comforting for your baby and therefore do not be concerned as to whether you are a brilliant reader or not.
  • If you struggle to read, you can point at the pictures in the book and make up your own story to tell to your baby.

Tips for reading together for 3-4 year old toddlers

  • Encourage your toddler by cuddling up with them or getting their siblings to join in and enjoy a time of reading stories and rhymes together.
  • Animal noises or sound effects are enjoyed at this age as well
  • Begin to ask questions when you’re reading together such as:  ‘What can you see on this page?’  ‘How do you think the characters feel?’
  • Develop your child’s confidence by asking your child to tell the story back to you.  They can ‘read’ the pictures to you and talk about what’s happening on the page.
  • If you feel comfortable, try making funny faces or using character voices – these always make children giggle!
  • Remember: talking with your child will help them learn more words.

Tips for reading together for 4-6 year old children

  • Take time to look at each page.
  • If your child can recognise some of the words, let them read aloud to you.
  • Be patient and allow your child to talk to you about the pictures. This helps them look for meaning and to think about what they see happening on the page.

As children get older, make time to read with them every day, even if they can read on their own.  Continue to discuss what has been read and ask questions to aid reading with comprehension.  Time spent together reading helps you identify whether there are any developmental issues that need attention. Join your local library and let your child go with you to take out books. Many of the libraries also offer fun holiday programmes to encourage reading and early childhood development.

The Road to Health booklet received at birth explains developmental milestones for children.  If you have any concerns regarding your child’s developmental milestones, visit your nearest primary healthcare facility for a check-up.  Should there be any concerns they will be referred to a specialist clinic or professional for support.  Early referral ensures that proper early intervention takes place for the benefit of your child. 

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Media Enquiries: 

Natalie Watlington
Department of Health
Western Cape Government
Tel: 021 202 0947
Mobile: 081 277 0516