Start them young
A love of reading starts from a young age and making reading enjoyable is the best way to encourage readers, Tash Rosin of Teatime Tutors explains. “Young children want to be with their parents having fun, and if you can do this for just a few minutes a day, your child will reach for a book in no time.” So much of parenting is about modelling behaviour and reading is no exception. Showing your child how you value and love reading yourself, even at times prioritising reading over other activities, all demonstrate its importance and can help foster a love of reading.
“Seeing parents or older siblings reading for pleasure helps children to realise that reading is a highly prized activity,” confirms Nicola Baldwin, Principal of Dolphin School.
Becoming a great reader also centres around easy access to books so provide a home that is overflowing with opportunities to share stories. “Keep books in every room and within children’s reach; a little basket of books in the kitchen to choose from as dinner is cooked, a basket that gets moved onto the balcony or garden each time you step outside, books in the bedroom, sitting room – keep them everywhere!” says Leanna Barrett, Head of Liberty Woodland School.
“Next, prioritise times to read to your child. Make them special and bonding; snuggling on the sofa under a blanket, building a den and reading books undercover, in bed in the mornings at the weekend. Talk, question and wonder out loud about the story – making it personal and relevant to your child.”
Common blocks and how to overcome them
When your child first starts to read, resist the instinct to correct every word they read incorrectly. It takes the enjoyment away and slows them down. “If reading doesn’t immediately come to a child, they may get frustrated and want to give up,” says Mary Lonsdale of Mentor Education. “This is a normal response to attempting something challenging, especially when it doesn’t come naturally. If this happens, take a step back and try to prevent them from getting discouraged. It may be helpful for more practice at a lower level to build your child’s confidence up.”
If your child is reluctant to read – at any age – take time to consider what they are being asked to read. The set text from school or the classic you loved as a child might be squashing their enthusiasm. “Giving the opportunity for children to explore all sorts of reading material is really important,” says Barrett. “From comics, short stories, annuals, picture books, favourite authors, books on a favourite theme, genre or interest – there is something out there for every child.”
Be mindful about pushing them towards more challenging books too early – it could put them off. “Often when children are progressing with their reading, towards the end of primary school or during the 11+ process, well-meaning teachers and parents will say that they should be reading ‘better’ or ‘more advanced’ stuff,” explains Adam D’Souza, founder of The Commons tutors. “But without good guidance on accessible texts, graduating to more advanced reading can seem like an insurmountable barrier – this is when motivation drops, kids switch off reading and start to fall through the cracks academically.”
It’s also worth assessing what other commitments your child has in their week and how this impacts the time they have to read. There is evidence that there is a vast decline in the number of children reading for pleasure when they get to nine years old.
“There is less time for reading when children’s attention is being spread thin between school, sports, clubs, family time and socialising,” warns Mary Lonsdale. “At this age, children start viewing reading as less of a relaxing pastime, and more of a chore that is expected of them.” This is when it’s important to protect reading time each day. “Keep a bedtime reading routine and keep reading out loud to them,” says Barbara Ferramosca, Head Librarian at King’s College School, Wimbledon. “The temptation to make them read the book themselves in order to ‘practise’ will be very strong at this point and our advice is to try to resist it.”
There is a pervasive stereotype that girls like reading more than boys. According to the recent Kids & Family Reading Report from Scholastic, there is definitely a gender gap, with boys being left behind. “Traditional images of masculinity can portray reading for pleasure as unmasculine or uncool, but this can be addressed by challenging these conceptions from an early age, by rewarding reading-friendly behaviour and by providing male readers as positive role models,” says Ferramosca.
ENCOURAGE A LOVE OF BOOKS EARLY
Although we want to get children reading, we should not put them under pressure to do so as this could overshadow the joy. The key to developing a positive attitude is simple yet effective: parents are encouraged to spend time reading to children as well as to model a love of reading themselves.
Have books in multiple places around the home, car and even the bathtub! Place books alongside toys on shelves and in boxes so that they are part of a child’s everyday experience. Have morning and bedtime reading as part of the daily routine.
Children often take cues from adults, teachers and parents; if they see them reading, enjoying the activity and discussing books with their friends, it is likely that they
will follow suit. Listening to audiobooks with children has huge benefits as hearing someone reading a book confidently is a great way to experience fluency.
Source: Hornsby House School
While the physical feel of a book, the cuddles at storytime and the positive associations of reading together should not be replaced, there are some digital platforms that can help alongside. “For very young children, I really rate Lingumi,” says Adam D’Souza. “Toby Mather, who founded it, is a former teacher and extremely clever; the platform is really well designed.”
Grace McCahery from The White House School Prep suggests a Kindle – “It can be a good way for children to read, particularly those with additional learning needs such as dyslexia.” Alternating a Kindle with a physical book can also be helpful.
Due to the rise in online schooling, many pupils have experienced screen fatigue so listening to a story has been a welcome relief. “Because of the sheer amount of time spent in front of their computers during online lessons, screen fatigue was a big concern and the use of audiobooks really transformed their relationship with stories and made them more aware that reading for pleasure is a powerful tool for their wellbeing too,” says Barbara Ferramosca. They also offer freedom and flexibility for those deterred by the restriction a book The Commons brings. “Audio books can be a great way into literature for reluctant teens because you can still do something active while listening to a book,” says Kate Jeffrey from Putney High School. “Libraries have free, downloadable audio books and Audible has a wide range of books for teenagers.”
The Covid effect
The past year, opportunities for children to read aloud have been reduced and input from teachers has been affected by online school. “When children did read to teachers over Zoom or Teams, it often became impossible when screens froze, and children lost their connection or lost their focus,” says Mary Lonsdale. “Last year we worked
on a voluntary basis with three local primary schools in Wandsworth whose Year 2 and 3 children largely stopped reading during lockdown, setting children back in a skill so dependent on daily practice. Primary-aged literacy has been badly affected by Covid- related school closures.”
The challenge for schools will be establishing foundations and building quickly on them to help children access a curriculum designed around formal reading from Year 1. So the message to parents remains consistent and clear – read with your child and find the books they love, not what you think they should read. “Success leads to enjoyment, which leads to more success,” concludes D’Souza.
WHY READING MATTERS ABOVE ALL ELSE
Reading is the key that unlocks success in every subject – even maths – as written instructions are the foundation of formal education. If your child struggles with reading, bludgeoning them with long novels or tedious reading schemes is not the way to help them love it.
Short stories, such as Roald Dahl’s Henry Sugar and Six More collection, are an enjoyable way for reluctant readers to get to the plot twist. Slightly older children might enjoy the macabre account of a murderer’s mind in The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.
If your child prefers facts, try history or science books, or biographies like My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, including the episode where boy Durrell’s French tutor shoots a gun out of the window!
It is worth subscribing to The Week Junior for child-friendly current affairs.
Source: The Commons