How to help your child with their first steps in reading
My memories of reading as a child are vivid: sitting quietly comfortable; piling up the books to read and explore; snuggling with parents and siblings at bedtime and hoping the chosen story would never end.
This passion for reading is what we, as parents and teachers, strive to instil in our children. We know the joy a good book can bring and understand the many benefits that go beyond the classroom. Research shows that reading relates to wellbeing in both young children and adults. It is a great relaxer and focuses the mind. It develops empathy and can help you manage difficult situations – relating to your heroine within a novel may help you to face your fears at a later date! Learning to read creates new neurological pathways and cultivates analytical skills alongside methodical problem-solving skills. Reading stimulates yet calms the brain; can help to improve memory and concentration and increases vocabulary. It really is a superpower! And, what could be more important right now than a skill that opens up new worlds, promotes positive mental health and boosts school attainment – all from the comfort of the sofa?
I love to hold a class enthralled in a story, to get lost in a character and draw the children in so that when the clock ticks to home time, the calls for “just one more page” are so great I’ll always tease out a few more minutes. Even now, reading every day to my class online is a lovely moment of connection.
Sadly, many studies show that the rate of reading enjoyment for many children is decreasing and reading is no longer a pastime they will actively choose. So what can we do as parents and as educators to boost enjoyment of reading once more?
Instilling a passion for books and reading is so positive for our children. Words surround us, but as proficient readers we do not give it any consideration. But is this the same for our children? Can you remember your first attempt at reading, the first time that you read a word? The frustrations followed by the elation? Recently my niece (aged four) called me gleefully to tell me that she could read, it was, to her, a magical time. She was reading words, regaling stories that she could now read all by herself. I wished I could bottle her pride and enthusiasm, harness that enjoyment and save it. There are ways to support a lifelong love of reading and here are some ideas I recommend to the families I teach and might give you some new ideas!
• Start early – even the smallest children enjoy cuddling up, looking at pictures and talking about a book.
• Share your enjoyment of books. Families may play a board game, watch a film together or take a cycle ride, but how many sit together and read? Reading to your children is different to reading with or alongside them. Showing reading as a valuable way to spend time will foster a love for books.
• Read, read and read some more – whether it’s a shopping list or a TV guide, embrace every opportunity to look at words together. Always carry books with you. It’s so easy to placate a child with a screen because it’s near to hand so get used to passing over a book instead.
• The library may be off limits right now but you could still arrange to book swap with friends – following all guidelines of course. Think of all the fun in choosing your favourite books to share and packaging them up and then the excitement of opening your own parcel!
• Let children choose what they want to read – none of us like to be told what to enjoy! And don’t worry if they want to read the same book over and over again.
• Choose an activity from a story and do it together – make Gruffalo crumble, jump in muddy puddles, wrap yourselves up as cocoons and emerge as beautiful butterflies.
• Give books as gifts so they are seen as a special treat and something to look forward to.
• Most importantly, remember there is no right or wrong way to read together. As long as you and your child are engaging with books, whether it’s through silly voices for characters, talking about the pictures or just taking turns to read aloud, nothing is more valuable.
Loving reading is a lifelong journey of discovery – there are so many characters to meet, places to visit, genres to relate to and facts to learn – but what an adventure! One that is fostered and encouraged by all around you and one that you learn to love, cherish and appreciate.
Reading is a must on the long list of skills and abilities that we humans need, but reading with enjoyment brings that skill to
life, opening the way to develop and achieve so much more.
So consider this – the next time you have a moment, find your child, share a book (or two) and begin the journey with them on the rewarding road to enjoyment, enrichment, relaxation and self-fulfilment.
Great Ballard is a small school with big ambitions, providing affordable education from Nursery to GCSE. We believe wellbeing is the foundation that allows the real learning to happen. www.greatballard.co.uk