The Grandparent Effect on Reading

Image by Richard Duijnstee from Pixabay

Grandparents are magic. Fact.

Whereas your children might be fighting with each other at your house, they go their grandparents and act like little angels. Whilst they might argue at the dinner table with you, eating at the grandparents is a relaxed affair. Even though they will refuse or cry about having to read to you, they’ll pick up a book voluntarily to read to their grandparents.

What is this strange phenomenon?

It’s time. Plenty of time.

Those retired oldies don’t have the stress of managing the cleanliness, education, nutrition, mental-health, physical exercise and everything else you have to manage for your children.

Grandma and Granddad have been there and done that. Now they’re retired: relaxed, chilled, taking it easy.

So, when you’re trying to listen to your unwilling child read painstakingly slowly, whilst cooking a guilty but fast, non-nutritious meal and simultaneously trying to remember what important appointment you needed to make and for which one of your children… Grandma and Granddad are pottering around their immaculate home looking for something to do.

You arrive at their picture postcard bungalow early Saturday morning with your PJs on under your outer coat, your wet freezing hair piled on top of your head, hoping desperately it looks like a trendy “scruffy-bun” dragging three half-dressed, sleepy, crying children along with you. The grandparents are already at the door and delighted to see you all. As you leave, the stress and frustration that is part of being a parent and house manager, leaves with you. The door slams shut and the tranquil peace of Grandma and Granddad’s home wraps itself around your children.

Instead of their usual arguing and fighting, the children sit down together and tell their doting grandparents about all the mundane things that interest them. Grandma and Granddad who were bored and frustrated and stressed when you were a child are now relaxed and genuinely interested in what the children have to say. The children pick up on that: there’s no competing for attention because they know their grandparents have time for all of them.

Grandma and Granddad give your children biscuits and juice for breakfast. “Where is the nutrition in that?” you berate them down the phone. “They’ll be off their nuts running around screaming and fighting!” But they’re not. Because they’re at Grandma and Granddad’s. Grandma and Granddad are magic.

After a while Granddad sits in his chair to read the paper. The smallest child sits on his lap so Granddad reads her a story book instead. Middle child comes and listens. Eldest child asks Grandma if he can read to her. “Whaaaat?” you stutter down the phone, “but I can’t get him to read anything, we fight every night, the school’s constantly nagging me.” Grandma didn’t have the boring school reading books. She had some picture books that were written for parents to read to children, not the other way around. If you asked the school, they would tell you the words are far too difficult for such a young child. Grandma doesn’t know this. Eldest child doesn’t know this. Eldest child believes he can read this. It’s his favourite book at Grandma’s that she has read to him a million times before. He knows every detail of every picture. He is able to remember or guess most of the words. Those he doesn’t know Grandma fills in. She doesn’t care about breaking the phonic sounds down. She doesn’t know about graphemes, phonemes and split diagraphs. She’s just enjoying spending time with her grandchild.

Later Granddad shows all the children a new book his neighbour dropped off for them. They all look excitedly at the cover and try to guess what the story might be about. Granddad reads the first page with all the children looking over his shoulder at the words and pictures. The youngest doesn’t quite understand what is going on, so the middle child, patiently and importantly explains it to her. He then guesses what is going to happen next. Granddad reads on and middle child is delighted to find out he was right.

Grandma and Granddad have just used a combination of Pace Reading, Reciprocal Reading, Modelling and Scaffolding. But they didn’t know it. Grandma and Granddad had time. Time to read to the children. Time to let the children read to them. Time to talk with the children. Time for the children to take their time. This is the magic of grandparents. This is the secret: Time.

Schools are catching on to this Grandparent-effect. Recently a 100 year old WWII veteran was awarded a British Empire Medal in recognition of his volunteer work helping young children to read at his local primary school. As he points out – the benefits go both ways. He began to volunteer after his wife passed away and it brought joy back into his life. Sometimes people are short of conversation when visiting elderly relatives in care homes or hospitals, having the grandchild read to them is a pleasurable space filler for all present and then stimulates conversation around the book. There is a charity that asks school children to read to elderly people who don’t have visitors showing that it is both sides who benefit.

So next time you berate yourself because you weren’t patient enough when they refused to read or read really badly to you, cut yourself some slack, and pack them off to their grandparents for a couple of hours. The grandparents and grandchildren will love spending time with each other and you can sit down for ten minutes with a cuppa, knowing everyone is happy and safe, before you return to tackling the one million jobs you assigned yourself this weekend!


How Can I Get My Teenager to Read?

Teenagers… they’re a little more challenging than they were when they were in single figures!

We all try our best, but I frequently have frustrated, worn out parents of teens asking me for the magical cure to make their previously cheerful child recover from their current reading refusal.

At this point, I wouldn’t blame Primary school teachers for feeling a little smug – they did a fantastic job teaching the children to read, but now those same children are at Secondary, it’s all gone awry!

So, what’s changed and how can you fix it?

They are older. Okay, I know I’ve stated the obvious here, but think about it – have you actually made any adjustments for their age? Are you still trying the same author that your child liked five years ago? Or last year? Are you trying to protect your children from horrors and thrillers perceiving your child to still be too young and in need of protection? Pre-teens and teenagers love danger and taking risks – the safest way for them to experience danger and risk-taking is through a book so let them push their boundaries.

They think reading is so uncool! Well, if they’re still reading the same books they read at Primary school, yes it is uncool. If you’re still using their Primary teachers and (I’m sorry…) yourselves as role models, then yes – you are soooooo uncool, like OMG embarrassing! Change the role models, how about Marcus Rashford, Frank Lampard, Georgia Toffolo, Scarlett Curtis, Stacey Dooley, Stormzy, Oti Mabuse, Nish Kumar, Aleesha Dixon, Tom Hardy, Taylor Swift… If you haven’t heard of some of these, you prove the point! Look out for my next blog where I’m going to be looking at the reading habits of certain celebrities.

The books are too difficult/too big. If your child hasn’t reached the fluency stage yet (which happens at a reading-age of approximately 12/13 then they are still concentrating hard on the actual reading itself: decoding, sentence structure and punctuation. It’s only when they reach full fluency that reading becomes almost as subconscious as breathing and they feel like they’re watching a film rather than doing any work. Teenagers are old enough to have this explained to them. Tell them that just like anything, football, gaming, dancing, whatever – practice is the only way to improve. But be clear that the practice will pay off – once they reach fluency it really will be like sitting down and watching TV! Now what self-respecting teenager isn’t attracted to the idea of no work at all! Oh and contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of older children’s books which are nice and short! There are also “Hi-Lo” books which are written for higher aged students with lower reading ages, so if their reading age is younger than their actual age, they don’t have to read “babyish” books. Ask your school librarian for recommendations.

They don’t have as much time as they used to. They don’t have time or you don’t have time? Time management is one of the most useful skills you can teach your child. They have more homework now and they still want to attend their clubs, then there are their friends to play out with. There is time to read, but it needs to be scheduled into their daily plan. Make sure their reading time is also your reading time. If you sit down and read together it makes the calm, relaxed and focused time they need. If you’re zipping about doing the laundry or making dinner, they’ll be distracted and stop reading. This is the best excuse ever to stop the housework, sit down and relax with a good book – and you’re being a brilliant parent doing it. I’m handing it to you on a plate! Take it 😊

They just don’t want to. In order to make reading an attractive proposition, we need to enhance the experience. Make sure the room is clean, tidy, comfy and quiet. Get yourselves a hot chocolate or a cool lemonade, light a scented candle, put out a snack, snuggle up with your pet… anything that makes the time more attractive. Make sure they have plenty of choices of books. If they find a book boring, there needs to be another one to hand. Borrow lots for free from your school or public library. Your teenager doesn’t need to read for long. 10 minutes is enough to start with and then build them up to 20 minutes per day if you can.

They have a new hobby. Excellent! They can read lots of non-fiction books about their hobby to learn as much as possible about it. And I guarantee, no matter how weird their hobby is, there’ll be a fiction book out there with a main character who has the same hobby!

So there you have it. What has changed is your child! They don’t have the same mindset, tastes or attitudes they did last year. We have to let them grow up, no matter how much we want to press the pause button, but we can still guide them. And the fact you have just read this blog shows you want the best for them. You are fabulous and they will appreciate you … eventually.

Good luck! xx