Over the next two weeks, many children across Australia will enter schooling life for the first time.
This marks a major change for these fledgling students and their families, but there's something parents shouldn't change, says a leading expert on literacy and reading.
Sue Nichols is associate professor of literacy education at the University of South Australia. She says that all too often, the start of school marks the end of bedtime stories for children, depriving them of a fun activity that fosters valuable learning outcomes.
"For many children, starting school is the beginning of learning to read. Teachers will be helping them learn about letter sounds and how these are combined in words,” associate professor Nichols said.
“Most children will be practising their new reading skills using special learn-to-read books, sometimes called ‘readers’. Parents will be encouraged to listen to their children read regularly. This is important."
However, Nichols said that as children begin to read independently, many parents stop reading to their children.
“There are good reasons why the bedtime story should continue well into the early school years,” she said.
"First, learn-to-read books have limited vocabulary. This is helpful for children practising their reading skills. But they also need to be continually adding new words, and more advanced words, to their mental dictionaries.”
She added that fiction and non-fiction books have a wider range of words so hearing parents read will keep children’s vocabularies expanding."
"Second, learn-to-read books have simple stories, often with few characters. Even movies, television shows and computer games have more complicated story-lines and children can cope with these,” Nichols explained.
“Hearing interesting stories where there are complications and twists gives children’s brains a work-out and helps them build comprehension skills which will be useful in their later reading. Third, learning to read is hard and children can get tired and frustrated.”
Nichols says listening to a story or sharing a non-fiction book can be “a nice break” and keeps up both children’s and parents’ enthusiasm.
“It shows children that reading is not just work but fun and informative,” she said.