Home | Ask the Expert

Our team of early childhood literacy experts at PRAESA and invited contributors share their advice and thoughts on all your reading and storytelling queries.

Ask the Expert

Do you know of any stories about single mothers that I can share with my children?

Question:

Do you know of any stories about single mothers that I can share with my children?

Answer:

The best way to find stories about particular themes, is to visit a library near you and ask the librarian for help. You can also tell your children your own stories about the things you have done together with them. Start like this: “Once upon a time, there lived a mommy and her children named …”. Most young children love hearing simple stories about themselves and the people who care for them. You could even write down these stories to read together again on another day.

What books should I buy my baby?

Question:

My baby is six months old and since I came across your website, I’ve been inspired to read to him twice a day! I really love it that I have found an activity to do with my son that gives us both so much pleasure – and I know that it is benefitting him educationally too. I have bought one or two books for him but I want to get some more. Books are quite expensive so I want to make sure that I buy the ones which will be most beneficial for a six-month old. What should I be looking for in the books I buy for my son?

Answer:

Books with simple pictures or photographs of babies’ faces usually work well for babies. Most babies also enjoy books that have songs and rhymes in them. Sing the songs and read the rhymes but also talk about what is in the pictures and name some of the objects and colours. Babies just love sound effects so add in these too – for example, ‘moo’ when you look at a picture of a cow! Board- and cloth books can be chewed, pulled and patted without breaking so they work best when you want to allow your baby to handle books on his own like during nappy changes or when he is in his pram during a shopping trip. The nice thing about reading to babies is that repetition and routine makes them feel secure so you can read the same book over and over again in exactly the same place each day without boring your baby at all!

How can I tell rather than read stories?

Question:

I grew up in a family where we were read to every night but I never really experienced having stories told to me as a child. Recently, I have been taking my six year old daughter to Story Time at our local library. The children’s librarian there either tells or reads a story to the children each week. I’m so inspired by the way she tells stories that I want to give it a try too but I don’t know how to get started. Can you give me a few tips to get me going? – David Engels, Port Elizabeth

Answer:

It’s always easiest to start with what you know when you first start telling stories, so start with stories that you know well like those you have enjoyed reading over the years. Well-told stories will create pictures in the minds of our listeners! Add in interesting and expressive words to your story and use different expressions in your voice – for example, a soft, squeaky voice for a mouse and a big, booming voice for a giant. Facial expressions, like smiling to show how happy a character is, also add interest. You can also use questions like ‘And what do you think happened next?’ to invite your daughter to participate in telling the story. Once you got the hang of telling familiar stories, try finding new stories in books or on the Internet. But mostly, just have fun – the more you enjoy telling your daughter stories, the more she will enjoy listening to them.

Is it okay to read the same book over and over again?

Question:

My four-year-old son owns a few books and we go to the library every Saturday morning so that there are others books that I can read to him too. My problem is that at the moment there is only one book that my son ever wants me to read him! If I start reading another book, he just says that he doesn’t want to hear that story and gives me his favourite book to read to him! I don’t mind reading his favourite story again and again but I want him to get the most out of our story times and I don’t think that he is because we are not reading enough different books. How do I change this? – Sarah Meeson, Pietermaritzburg

Answer:

You are not the first adult to ask us this question! It is very common for young children to want to hear their favourite stories told or read over and over again! Mostly this happens for a while and then children find a new ‘favourite’ story to keep asking for. In the meantime, please do not worry: every time your child hears his favourite story he is learning about how stories and language work and making connections between the words and letters on the page and how they represent same sounds each time they are read. All of this is developing his literacy. You can encourage him to try other books by suggesting that you each choose a book for you to read to him. That way he can continue to choose his one-and-only favourite book of the moment and you get to introduce a different book to him every day!

Should I encourage my child to read before he goes to school?

Question:

I have been reading to my five-year-old son since he was a baby and he loves books. My friends say that parents shouldn’t try to teach their children how to read and also that children have to be in Grade 1 before they can learn to read. My problem is that when my son is looking at a book on his own he pretends to read most of the words and then often stops and asks me ‘What does this word say, Mom?’. I don’t want to confuse him by teaching him things he will learn later at school but he is so interested in reading and I want to do everything that I can to encourage him. What should I do? – Fatima Adams, Johannesburg

Answer:

Learning to read is a process that unfolds in its own time – it cannot be pinned down to a specific age or place. It is not at all unusual for five-year-olds who have been read to over many years to learn to read before they go to school. Some five-year-olds may be able to read on their own. Others (like your son) may already know that the words on the page tell the story, always stay the same and have meaning. Other five-year-olds might have just discovered books. Our job as parents and caregivers is to support our children’s learning at whatever stage they are. Your son is asking you to help him decode the words on the page because he wants to unlock their meaning. This is another step in his development as a reader. Follow his lead, and read the words when he asks you to and, most importantly, keep reading to him regularly as you have done his whole life!

How can I make bedtime storytelling more relaxed?

Question:

My daughter is 3 years old and ever since I started reading your supplement, I’ve been reading to her at bedtime every day. She also has story time in the morning and afternoon at the educare centre she goes to. But I find that when we share books together at bedtime we’re both a bit irritable because we’re tired after our busy days! I know that reading to children at bedtime is what most people suggest. What can I do to make this time more relaxed for both of us? – Zinhle Mbuli, Benoni

Answer:

You’re absolutely right that whenever you read together the most important thing is that these times are relaxing and enjoyable for you both! Try out a few different times of day to see what suits you best. Remember that you can share stories whenever it feels right for you, no matter what time it is. Sometimes playing a little game or singing a song your daughter loves will also help to get her in the mood.  A good selection of books is useful too, so she can choose. Be guided by the way you both feel. Even five minutes a day is good, as long as it’s positive and fun!

What language should I use to prepare my child for school?

Question:

We speak isiZulu at home. My youngest child is in Grade 2 and I’m happy that, although he is learning English at school, all his other lessons are in isiZulu. His older sister is in Grade 6. When she went to Grade 4 suddenly all her lessons were in English even though she still did isiZulu as a subject. It was very difficult for her and her marks dropped a lot. I want to help prepare my son for the switch to English in two years time so that he does not struggle as much as she did. Do you think I should help him by speaking and reading to him only in English and not in isiZulu like I am doing at the moment? – Thokozile Dlungwana, Kwamashu

Answer:

It is extremely difficult for children to do well at school when they have to learn in a language that they have not yet mastered properly. One of the ways you can help prepare your son for the ‘switch’ to English is to continue doing what you are already doing – use his mother tongue, isiZulu, at home! Use it for everyday conversations and, reading and writing! Being able to use his mother tongue well will build a firm foundation for him to learn another language. You can also help him make the connections to English by sometimes reading English picture books to him and by singing and saying English songs and rhymes together. In this way you will be growing his mother tongue and adding to his language skills by helping him learn a new language in a natural and fun way.

How can I make my child more comfortable with reading aloud?

Question:

I have a problem with my son. He is 7 years old. He is very shy and he can’t read. I want to help him. What should I do to help him?

Answer:

Sometimes shy children find school challenging. The best thing you can do is to spend time with him in a relaxed way, doing fun things together, such as playing, telling stories, reading with him and looking at books together. If you know or can find out what interests him most, try and get stories or other books on these subjects. Also share the stories in the Nal’ibali supplement with him. Remember that its best to read to him in the language he understands best to help him gain confidence.

How do I find stories about particular themes?

Question:

Do you know of any stories about single mothers that I can share with my children?

Answer:

The best way to find stories about particular themes, is to visit a library near you and ask the librarian for help. You can also tell your children your own stories about the things you have done together with them. Start like this: “Once upon a time, there lived a mommy and her children named …”. Most young children love hearing simple stories about themselves and the people who care for them. You could even write down these stories to read together again on another day.

How can I make learning English easier for my child?

Question:

How can I help my daughter understand words in English?

Answer:

You don’t say how old your daughter is, but for anyone learning words in a new language, it is easier if you are given lots of clues! So, for example, looking at a picture of an apple, hearing the word, saying the word and pointing to it in the picture, reading about an apple in a story, eating a real apple and writing the word, would all help your daughter to learn and remember the word! It would also help if you told her what the word for “apple” is in her home language. Rhymes and songs are also great for helping children to learn a language. It is even better if you can find these songs or rhymes in picture books, because the pictures give clues about what the words are. If your daughter is old enough, share the bilingual stories in the Nal’ibali supplement with her – first read the story in your home language, and then in English.

How can I motivate my child to write?

Question:

I have a 9-year-old girl who is doing Grade R. She doesn’t like writing and I don’t know what to do.

Answer:

When children experience the power of stories in books, and they have something that they want to communicate, they develop an interest in writing. Encourage your child by reading to her regularly for at least 15 minutes a day. Leave writing materials within reach at home so that she can write down a list of things she may want you to buy for her, or so that she can write a note to you when she wants to tell you something. Remember to also be a writing role model for her – she needs to see you writing to realise that it is valuable!

Is my child reading well enough for his age?

Question:

What words should a Grade 6 child be able to read?

Answer:

Children’s reading abilities differ quite a lot, so it’s not really possible to say what words all Grade 6 children should be able to read. As long as your child understands what he/she is reading, enjoys reading and reads regularly, his/her reading will improve over time. Encourage your child by reading to him/her every day.

Ask the Expert

Do you have any questions about your children's reading and writing development?