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How can we support children to become readers for life

By 02/04/2023No Comments
wee girl reading
by Child Development Expert Dr Jacqueline Harding
Director of Tomorrowschild, Senior Lecturer at Middlesex University, former BBC Education Editor and Headteacher

Those who read for pleasure do better in a wide range of subjects at school and it positively impacts comprehension, critical thinking and wellbeing. Early enjoyable exposure to the world of text and illustrations can increase motivation to read for a lifetime. Content, in whatever format it is served up, must uphold two main ingredients: inspiration and imagination. Quite simply, the brain loves to play, and these two ingredients inspire it to keep going. So how best can we stimulate the playful brain to build a love of reading?

Research commissioned by Readly, the European leader in digital magazine and newspaper subscriptions, reveals that many parents and grandparents believe that comics and visual content can encourage children to develop a love of reading.

The relationship between reading text and image is being reconfigured all the time and we are all finding our way through those changes, accelerated by the digital world in which we live. The critical question is: can images and written text work well together in formats such as comics and magazines or will they forever remain in competition with books and more text-based formats?

As a young child, it never ceased to fascinate me that during rainy playtimes at school when the comics and magazines were allowed out of their secret location, the most reluctant of readers would pounce on the opportunity to gobble up the stories whilst doing their best to avoid the books on the shelf for the rest of the day! It may well have been this memory that led me to study this area later in life.

So, how as adults can we embrace this image dominated culture and remain committed to developing literacy skills and readers for life? We certainly don’t need to and shouldn’t be making the choice between comics and magazines and books. Children like to be entertained, to laugh and have fun and this is a golden ingredient on offer in comics and magazines. Perhaps we can locate a popular theme in a comic/magazine and follow it through to a book, where text is more pronounced and bring about a gradual and respectful process that takes account of the child’s agency. If they choose it, they are more likely to immerse themselves in it.

This thought is supported by the National Literacy Trust whose research showed that having opportunities to read digitally could be particularly effective for children with low levels of reading engagement, such as reluctant readers. For these children, reading enjoyment increased both on a screen and in print, indicating that reading digitally had the potential to provide a route into general reading and literacy.

Here are my top tips to inspire children to become life-long readers:

1. Immerse children in the illustrations
Encourage young children to ‘lose themselves’ in the illustrations – the ‘meaning’ extracted from pictures helps them make sense of the text. This helps them to increase reading comprehension by explaining the words on the page and is a crucial part of the storytelling process.
2. Digital appeal
The digital space is here to stay, and children encounter it in a very different way to grownups; they were born into this digital world, they learn with it in school, and they see it used every day. Support children to move seamlessly between the digital space for reading and print formats by offering them content that is personalised and something they are really interested in. On platforms such as Readly they can browse and read all their favourite comics and magazines on a phone or tablet at home or on the go.
3. Relax into reading
Dial down any stress involved in ‘learning to read’ and offer them fun material that has something to ‘say’ to them! There needs to be a sense of relaxation, this is key to the experience of beginning to decipher those squiggles on the page. Children tend to like characters who are inspirational and stir a positive feeling for them.
4. Inspire them with comics
Fun and imagination motivate learning. It is a well-trodden path along the journey to becoming a lifelong reader. Children who read graphic novels and short form content are more likely to foster a love of reading. It helps create a healthy habit, provides exposure and drives confidence for reading, with the illustration helping to deepen the narrative and reveal important social and cultural cues.
5. Get involved too!
Dive into the reading space with them whether that is online or offline. Laugh and enjoy the experience together – this communicates that reading is a marvellous activity.
6. Bring reading to life
Carry on the experience in the real world – perhaps by getting creative using storylines and characters they love or that inspire them.
7. Laugh
Get to know what makes a child laugh and exploit it! Choose funny, laugh out loud content and characters.
8. Be ‘on the child’s side’                                                                                                                                                                                  When it comes to respecting the importance of pictures, spend time looking at the picture and knowing it plays a huge role in reading too.
9. Combine formats
Offer children both comics and books – the more formats they enjoy reading across, the better!
10. Talk reading and review
Chat about the story lines in comic and magazines and search for books that follow similar themes. Talk about which part of the content the child enjoyed, any they didn’t. Knowing what they want to read about is a crucial step in inspiring a love of reading.

Children are hungry for content that is meaningful to them, irrespective of format, as they can move with ease between platforms and generally assume less of a distinction than we might expect.

Readly, the unlimited digital magazine and newspaper app for all the family, has collaborated with Disney to bring over 80 Disney magazines to its subscribers. Young readers can immerse themselves in the Disney experience through brilliant stories, fantasy adventures, craft ideas and activities based on their favourite Disney characters. Visit