We all know that reading is one of the key ingredients to doing well at school and is essential to your child’s development. The research is crystal clear. People with good literacy skills are more likely to have higher self-esteem, better jobs, higher wages and even better health. So what can you do as a parent to encourage a love of reading?
When to start reading
It is simply never too soon to start reading to your child. “It’s not just about books. It’s about language and communication,” says Sarah Osborne, Manager, National Reading Network for Schools and Early Years settings at the National Literacy Trust http://www.literacy trust.org.uk. “Talk to your baby. Repeat nursery rhymes. Sing. Use props. And generally make it fun,” suggests Osborne. The library is a great resource with lots of activities to try. As your child gets older let them play an active role in choosing books. It’s important to find a quiet, cosy place to enjoy a story.
Choosing the right book
Choosing the right book is the key to unlocking a love of reading. “It’s like buying a car with square wheels. If you buy a book and your child doesn’t like it and it gets left to gather dust on the shelf, it’s a total waste of money,” says David Teale, founder of online book club www.myschoolbookclub.com. Firstly, get expert advice. Try asking a good book seller, librarian teacher or use an online book club. Secondly look for a book on something they are interested in e.g. football, butterflies. The main aim is for your child to enjoy reading.
Variety is the spice of life
Don’t feel your child has to be stretched every time they read something. There are some great picture books and comics that older children will love. “Adults read simple things too. We all read tabloid news papers and the back of corn flakes packets,” adds Teale. Osborne agrees: “It’s all about choosing something to suit a particular moment. Sometimes you may feel like reading ‘Hello’ magazine while other times you’d prefer to get your teeth into ‘War and Peace.’”
Set a good example
“In a musical family you generally find children become good musicians. Reading is contagious too,” says Teale. Make sure you show your children that you love reading too. Sit down and read your books together. Read anything from recipes to sign posts to demonstrate what an important life skill it is.
When your child starts school they will start to learn to read. If your child loves reading to you -that’s great. “Don’t get too hung up on your child being word perfect. Just give them lots of encouragement,” says Osborne. If they don’t want to read to you after a hard days slog at school then don’t push them. “Children can lose face if it’s difficult for them and it can also remind them of school work – which can be a negative feeling for some children,” adds Teale.
Make time to read to your children regularly. Not only is it great for their language and communication skills it helps create a special bond. “Reading a book to your children at the end of the day is a lovely way to wind down,” adds Osborne. More often than not it’s Mum who reads the stories but don’t forget Dad too. “Don’t worry if you don’t read well - children won’t be critical and they’ll love the personal contact,” says Teale. And if they want to read the same book over and over again, don’t fret; it is because they are getting something from it.
Bring books to life
If your child has enjoyed reading a particular book, then find out more about it. Check the internet for fan clubs and the author’s website. Look for games, colouring sheets or competitions. “If your child loved Roald Dahl’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, then take them to go and see the play or film or find out if there’s a DVD of it you can watch,” suggests Teale. Watching a good film can spur a reluctant reader to try the next book in the series. Or play an audio CD of stories to children (great for long car journeys) and then introduce the books to them. “Carry on with an author,” says Teale. So if your child liked a particular book as a toddler encourage them find out if they’ve written anything for older children.
When to stop reading
Don’t! Everyone loves a good story. “The age old problem is that as soon as children become independent readers parents stop reading to their children,” says Osborne. Teale agrees: “My wife read to our four children until they were at least 10 or 11. Then, as she loved the stories so much, she continued reading to our youngest until she was 13 or 14. All went on to further education so it must have done them some good!”
What about learning difficulties?
There is no excuse for a child with dyslexia or any other learning difficulty not to enjoy reading. “We’ve recently introduced a whole raft of books, especially written by the best authors for dyslexic and reluctant readers. There are funny stories, haunting stories, stories written for children up to the age of 14-15, but with a reading age of 6-8 years, “says Teale.