A child who consistently reads is a child who consistently learns. About anything, not just the school curriculum. In “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell, you learn all about horses pulling carts and all the relevant technical terms – you don’t get that on the curriculum. In “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson, it’s amazing what you learn about mountain climbing – you don’t get that on the school curriculum. In “How to Train Your Dragon” by Cressida Cowell, you learn all about dragons – you definitely don’t get that on the school curriculum!
The question is – how do you get your child to be interested in reading in the first place?
Well it starts in the womb. Really! Of course, Erin the Embryo cannot understand what you are reading, but she can hear the sound of your voice and the rhythm of your words. At the same time she is tuned in to your heart beat which is strong and slow when you are calm. You are teaching your unborn child to associate the sound of reading with pleasure.
Your child is already born? Don’t worry, you’re not too late.
I cannot express strongly enough how important bedtime stories are. Firstly, they are a lovely wind down to sleep time. Secondly, they are a beautiful bonding time and thirdly, your child will hear approximately 1,000,000 words in one year of bedtime stories! That’s right, I haven’t left my finger resting on the “0” key, it is actually one million words per year just from bedtime stories! Therefore, a child starting nursery is potentially 3,000,000 words ahead of a child who doesn’t have bedtime stories.
So, you read to your child in the womb and out of the womb. You read to them through the day and at bedtime, yet now they’re nine, they’re a reluctant reader? What went wrong?
Don’t worry, all is not lost. You see, there’s a big difference between not enjoying reading and not enjoying a story. Almost everyone enjoys a story, but there are many children who do not enjoy reading. The reason is that until they reach full fluency reading is hard work! They have to decode the words, remember to pause at the commas, and stop at the full stops. Then they have to make sense of a sentence that didn’t flow, because they stopped to decode a word. On top of all this they have to imagine the characters and scenes from the descriptions (by this age they’re lucky if there are any pictures in their book). What a chore! No wonder they don’t want to read!
The only way to get through this is with practice. So how can we persuade them to keep reading through the tough part without giving up? How can we make it a pleasure? Here are a few ideas for you to try:
- An animal – non-judgemental, tactile, soft fur to stroke, adores the child reading to them regardless of fluency. The only time my son would ever read was when I draped our Labrador across him!
- cuddly toy – ditto above but doesn’t need feeding.
- Grandma – never underestimate the Grandma (or Granddad) effect. It’s a very real thing. You see grandparents dote on their grandchildren in a way that they never did their own children. They think every word that comes out of their mouth is perfect and coo over the most simple achievements. They spoil them rotten, and reading time is a good time to be spoilt rotten!
- A hot chocolate, cookie, lolly – the way to my heart is straight through my stomach and I know I’m not alone!
- Comfortable room, tidy, no clutter – when you’re doing something difficult, it is easy to get stressed, so the cleaner and tidier and cosier the surroundings the calmer the child.
- Quiet, calm, no distractions – they’re working hard enough without having to block out the sound of Coronation Street in the background!
- Everyone doing the same – reading time should be for the whole family. Children are far more willing to take part in a family event rather than everyone else doing something “fun” while they’re “stuck here reading”.
- Model reading – see above.
- Talking about what you’re reading. It’s so much more interesting for them when they can have a conversation with you and you can both discuss what you’re reading, compare stories and give each other recommendations.
- Be interested in any reading they have done – see above.
- Read the same books as your child – see above.
- Ask them to predict what will happen – engaged readers are always thinking ahead to what might happen next. If they’re right, they’re pleased with themselves, if they’re wrong, they’re impressed with the author’s twist – it’s a win-win situation.
- Keep reading to the children – please don’t stop reading to your child. Eighteen isn’t too old to be read to. In fact, at a recent Union conference a lady told me her now husband used to read to her when they were courting! All together now … ahh!
- Expectations / routine – children thrive on routine, if they know when they’re going to be reading they can mentally prepare for it and it won’t be an unpleasant surprise.
- Trips to the Library with plenty of books available – it’s a free resource and so much choice. “There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book” Frank Serafini.
- If your child really enjoyed a story and wants to read the same one again, that’s okay too!
The point of all the above, is that reading is always associated with a positive experience until eventually, the reading is the positive experience.
We never grow out of enjoying stories, we just change which stories we prefer. Once your child has a life-long love of literacy, they have a free hobby for life. And you cash in on your effort years down the line, when they read to you in your nursing home!
Happy reading folks!