Keeping a group of small children interested while you read to them can be a massive challenge for even the most experienced of early years’ professionals. So why should a humble toddler group leader bother with story time?
It develops social skills
Sitting still and listening do not come naturally to children – and that’s precisely why it’s good to teach them those skills. Children need to learn to be part of a group, to focus their attention on one thing for a short time, and to join in when appropriate. These social skills are invaluable once they reach nursery or school.
However, we also need to accept that our pre-school children are, by definition, not yet ready for school – they are too young. We need to have reasonable expectations for their behaviour otherwise we can become discouraged and frustrated. Similarly, whilst we want to encourage parents to help their children take part, we must be careful not to make them feel embarrassed or guilty if the little ones don’t sit still.
It improves literacy
Regardless of the choice of book, reading to children is a great thing to do. Right from the start, they will watch and learn which way up to hold the book and how to turn the pages – great preparation for when they begin to handle books themselves. As you are reading to them they will hear new words (effortlessly absorbing the correct pronunciation), sentence structures and grammar. And through hearing stories read aloud to them at a young age they are likely to learn to love books and want to read independently.
Bear in mind that there may be children in your toddler group whose parents or carers do not regularly read to them at home – perhaps mum or dad struggles with reading. Story time for these toddlers will be especially important. .
It stimulates creativity
The story that you tell will hopefully interest the children, but really this is just a starting point. Reading to children should excite their curiosity and lead them into having further adventures in their own minds. Ask questions such as, “What do you think happens next?” to encourage this and rouse their imaginations.
It teaches new ideas
Stories can be an effective way to communicate a message. I don’t know about you, but somehow it seems much easier for me to remember a story than a list of bullet points. Jesus knew this and often used parables to teach his followers. You may want to read some of his stories to your group to teach the same simple biblical truths. Other bible stories can also be used with pre-school children and some secular stories have fantastic moral messages too. Don’t be afraid to skip pages or adjust the words to make a book more suitable for the audience – you might even develop a talent for writing your own tales!
Running a story time may feel like hard work, but it really is worth persevering with it.
So, are you sitting comfortably? … Then let’s begin.