“Once upon a time…” are words all children love to hear, because kids adore stories that carry them into magical imaginary worlds filled with adventure and excitement. You can do a world of good by telling or reading your little ones stories every day, but you’ll give them a priceless life-long gift if you inspire in them a great love of reading and books from an early age.

The many benefits of reading cannot be emphasised enough, least of all because being a fluent reader is a crucial key to future academic success. Reading also improves vocabulary, general knowledge and concentration, boosts brain development, stimulates creativity and encourages curiosity and logical thinking. Most of all, reading is FUN!

Here are seven smart strategies to encourage your children to develop a personal love affair with the printed word.

1. Start early
Read aloud to your child, starting as soon as your baby is big enough to sit up. A baby might not understand the words you’re saying, but she will benefit from the sound of your voice, colourful pictures and the intimacy of being snuggled in your arms. Make bed-time stories a nightly ritual for toddlers and preschoolers, and for older children too, even if they’ve already learned to read to themselves.

2. Provide books, and sing their praises!
Set up a small shelf in your child’s room and fill it with interesting, colourful books. There’s no need to spend a fortune: you can borrow books from friends or your local library, or pick them up in second-hand shops and flea markets. However, encouraging your children to love reading goes beyond merely giving them easy access to books: it’s also important to set an example by praising books, and by showing them how much Mom enjoys reading her own novels, magazines and newspapers.

3. Look after books
A book, no matter how old and tattered, is a gateway into other worlds, and it’s important to encourage children to respect and take care of books. Let your children help you cover treasured books with plastic, and write their names in the front of the books to give them a sense of ownership.

4. Join a library
Visit your local library and apply for children’s borrowers’ cards. Encourage the kids to explore the library, to select their own books and to check them out themselves, which will help inspire independence. Then schedule a visit to the library every few weeks – this is a great way to spend quality time with your little ones.

5. Talk about books
Show an interest in what your children are reading, and encourage them to discuss the books they’re enjoying. Family dinners are an excellent opportunity to open a conversation about reading and stories, and to share interesting facts from novels and reference books.

6. Help them find the right books
Once a child has found a book she adores, she’ll want to explore more stories by the same author, or books that have similar themes. Ask your librarian for recommendations, or use the Internet to research lists of books that are adored by children across the world. Here are some great online resources:

7. Let them read what they want
Although it’s important to choose age-appropriate reading material for kids, and to keep unsuitable adult books out of reach, it’s also wise to offer no judgements when it comes to children’s choices. Reading a comic, for example, is better than not reading at all. It doesn’t matter how many times a child re-reads a beloved novel, or if your son sticks only to stories about soccer, or if you think a book sounds dull. As reading skills develop and the children enter the teen and adult years, they’ll move on to a whole new world of new and interesting topics: science fiction, fantasy, poetry, biography and so many more.

In a world where many children would rather watch TV, play computer games or stare into a phone screen, reading books seems more important than ever. We’d love to know what your children are reading at the moment – what are their favourite books? Leave a comment below, or tell us on Facebook.