Firstly, I will get my wavers in: I am not a perfect parent. My children are wild; they fight incessantly with each other; I let them get disgustingly dirty in the garden; I don’t iron their clothes; I forget to send them in with what they need for school sometimes; they sometimes forget their please and thank-yous despite being too old to do so and my youngest regularly licks the soles of his shoes and I don’t know what to do about it. I AM NOT PERFECT. And I would never pretend to be so. However, reading is one of the things that we have got right. (Yay – do a little dance for doing one thing right!)
I would hope it would be one of the things that we’d get right with me being an English teacher. Maybe it’s my passion for reading, understanding of the importance of reading for their attainment in all subjects and just my wish for them to have access to the boundless imaginary world that reading allows you into. When I say, we’ve got it right, what I mean is that my boys have always loved books, always wanted a story and both now read independently and for fun. Whether this continues into the dreaded teen years, I don’t know, but they have got off in this respect to the best possible start. So this is a part teacher, part parent guide to getting your child to love reading!
1) Start them young!
I honestly don’t think that there is such thing as too soon to start reading to children. I’m not going to to beat you over the head with this as I’m sure you’ve heard it before but children who are read to are more likely to have a lifelong love of reading, a richer vocabulary and therefore to do better at school. For some of you, the time may have been and gone (in which case feel free to skip to number 2!); however if you are a parent of a young child or even about to have your first there is really no reason that you can’t read to a baby when they are still a babe in arms. And not only that, reading is a fantastic way to calm a baby as part of their bedtime routine and a cozy, warm, snuggly way to enjoy the last ten minutes of your day with your child. If they link reading to positive times with you from an early age, psychologically it has to mean that reading seems positive to them. I still read every day to my children and they are 5 and 9. I plan to read to and with them for many more years.
2) Make them think they are winning.
When I was younger, I remember my parents insinuating that having an apple or some grapes was a lovely treat and that I was lucky to be having them. I would sit down with my bowl of grapes feeling that I had won at life. As a parent myself now, I see that this was clever psychology. By making me think that I was getting something, my parents were in fact getting me to eat lots of healthy food without the tears or tantrums.
I have used exactly the same psychology with my boys to get them to read. When my eldest was learning to read, I used to say to him, “It’s bedtime…” (Cries of , “Nooooo!”) “But if you are a REALLY good boy, I will let you read me a story.” To my astonishment, he absolutely bought into this! He learned to read basically so that he didn’t have to go to sleep! As he got better at reading, I would leave him to read himself. The proviso was he could go to sleep or read for half an hour. He felt that he was winning because he was awake past his 7pm bedtime. As time has gone by, this has extended so that he now reads for sometimes as much as 3 hours per night! (We may need to stop worrying about reading and start worrying that he is getting enough sleep…!)
You may be dubious that this will work with your child and, I must admit that when my second child got to reading age, I was a little concerned that my tactic would not work. My second child was much more reluctant to, well… do anything really. He also has a nose for anything that might be trying to control him. However, slowly (much more slowly) we have got to exactly the same place. He goes to bed and reads, reads, reads. For this child, more than any, the promise that other children might be asleep and he’s not is enough to make him want to read.
2) Incentivise reading.
Why not have a sticker chart or an agreement that your child gets treats if he/she reads a certain number of books in a week or month? One for slightly older children is to add competition to their reading, even if they are competing with themselves! My son really enjoyed the Goodreads app as he was able to add his books on and rate them each time he finished a book. I’ve used the app myself and understand the sense of achievement when you enter another book to your finished list. It seems children are no different! As well as this, the app does have capacity to share recommendations with friends which is a great way to work out what book should be next on your hit list!
3) Let them read what they want.
Often on parents evenings, I’ve had parents worrying about what their child reads. I think there is a time and a place for pushing your child to read more challenging and/or different genres of books. However, this just can’t be at the expense of enjoyment. If your child likes an author or a genre and just wants to read it again and again, then I say let them! I enjoy re-reading my favourite books and authors as they are the books that I can lose myself in. This is part of the beauty of reading. If you want to inspire a love of reading then nagging them to put down their favourites seems to me to be ill advised. Of course, see if you can steer them in the direction of age appropriate books; however if they want to go back to that book they loved three years ago, it really can’t harm them to do so.
If your child is a reluctant reader but enjoys sports, then get them the newspaper each week (a decent one that uses good vocabulary) and leave it open on the sports pages. They like science? Get them a science journal or Stephen Hawkings A Brief History of Time. They like dance? Buy an autobiography of a successful dancer. They like graphic novels? Then LET THEM READ GRAPHIC NOVELS! Any reading is better than no reading! Once you have them onside, then you can start to recommend something a little more challenging. Push them too far though and you will turn them off reading.
4) Get hold of a variety of books.
I always say that books are the one item that I am always willing to buy for my kids. If they want a book, I will buy it. I may need to remortgage my house soon but, in my opinion, there is no greater education I can provide for them than to be surrounded by books they love. Clearly sometimes we do have to find alternatives to buying books for financial reasons. However, you can get books free from libraries, can often pick up books cheap or for free from charity shops or from Facebook marketplace and for a cheap monthly subscription, Kindle allow unlimited download of some books.
5) Praise their efforts.
Finally, make a big deal about what they are reading. Ask them questions. Listen to them read. Tell them they are clever. And even when you are dying for your tea and a sit down on the couch after a long day and they are painfully reading a sentence that feels like it has taken a full century to end, try to keep smiling and encouraging and praising. Because they are doing well and they are improving, whatever their level, and all they want to do is please you.
So as a parent who HAS cracked reading (at least until they get into high school and the hormones kick in) and as a teacher who knows how much it matters, I now need your advice… Just how do I turn down the volume on my children? Why won’t they stop fighting? How on earth am I meant to remember everything they need for school clubs, plays, visits, events and random charity pound-giving days? Why does everyone else’s child look so much tidier than my two? What could I have done to encourage my child to lick the soles of his shoes? Answers on a postcard please.
Word Academy launched in autumn 2018 and offers fun, friendly tuition sessions for 8-18 year olds to help them improve their English skills. I offer small-group classes of up to 5 students for those sitting their GCSEs, those that need a little help at Key Stage 2 or 3 and year 5 students who are working towards their grammar school entrance exam. A-level English Literature 1-1 tuition is also available. Check out Michelle’s website. Click here.