As parents, we all want the best for our children. We’re probably all aware that it’s important to make sure they are confident, fluent readers who enjoy reading, but often it’s hard to know where to start. Should you read to your baby? What can you do to help get your children familiar with words and reading before school? And how do you help them progress at school when the teaching is different nowadays?
We hope that this guide will help answer some of your questions, as well as give you some advice and inspiration on how to help children enjoy reading.
Why is reading so important?
Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures.
In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.
What difference could I make as a parent?
The short answer is: a lot! Parents are by far the most important educators in a child’s life and it’s never too young for a child to start, even if you’re only reading with your child for a few minutes a day.
Before they’re born, babies learn to recognise their parents’ voices. Reading to your baby from the time they’re born gives them the comfort of your voice and increases their exposure to language.
Building vocabulary and understanding
Learning to read is about listening and understanding as well as working out print. Through hearing stories, children are exposed to a rich and wide vocabulary. This helps them build their own vocabulary and improve their understanding when they listen, which is vital as they start to read. It’s important for them to understand how stories work as well. Even if your child doesn’t understand every word, they’ll hear new sounds, words and phrases which they can then try out, copying what they have heard.
As children start to learn to read at school, you can play an important role in helping to keep them interested in books, finding out what interests them and helping them to find books that will be engaging and fun for them. Give time to helping them practise reading the books they will bring home from school.
How to read with your child
For most of us, reading aloud isn’t part of everyday life, so the thought of reading a story to your child may be a bit daunting. But don’t let this put you off – your children will be enjoying themselves too much to criticise your performance!
How should I read to my child?
• As you read to your child, bring the characters to life – talk about the characters, the drawings and the events so that the story starts to come alive.
• Don’t be afraid to try different voices or try out your acting skills. While you may not win an Oscar, your child will enjoy your performance and appreciate the story even more.
• Remember that your face says it all – so exaggerate your normal expression times three like a children’s TV presenter: children will love it.
• Emphasise repeated words and phrases (‘the big bad wolf ’; ‘… blew, and blew, and blew the house down’). In this way, your child starts to learn the language used in books. Encourage your child to say the words with you.
• Turn off the television and concentrate on enjoying the book.
• Try audio books that children can listen to on the car stereo, on computers or phones – this is a great way to build a child’s understanding of stories and improve their listening.
Top 10 tips to help children enjoy reading
To help make reading enjoyable and fun, we asked experts and authors what they recommend to help get kids reading.
- Make books part of your family life – Always have books around so that you and your children are ready to read whenever there’s a chance.
- Join your local library – Get your child a library card. You’ll find the latest videogames, blu-rays and DVDs, plus tons and tons of fantastic books. Allow them to pick their own books, encouraging their own interests.
- Match their interests – Help them find the right book – it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, poetry, comic books or non-fiction.
- All reading is good – Don’t discount non-fiction, comics, graphic novels, magazines and leaflets. Reading is reading and it is all good.
- Ask questions – To keep them interested in the story, ask your child questions as you read such as, ‘What do you think will happen next?’ or ‘Where did we get to last night? Can you remember what had happened already?’
- Read whenever you get the chance – Bring along a book or magazine for any time your child has to wait, such as at a doctor’s surgery.
- Read again and again – Encourage your child to re-read favourite books and poems. Re-reading helps to build up fluency and confidence.
- Bedtime stories – Regularly read with your child or children at bedtime. It’s a great way to end the day and to spend valuable time with your child.
Choosing what to read
When it comes to instilling a love of reading, it doesn’t really matter what you read. The important thing is that we all help to inspire our children to feel confident and comfortable reading.
Ask yourself what type of reading the book is for. Is it a book they have got from school to help practise reading and build fluency? Is it a book that they find easy to read that helps them build confidence? Is it a book for you to read for pleasure to your child?
What should I read to my child, what should they be reading, and when?
With hundreds of books in your local library, school or bookshop, it can be hard to know where to start when choosing a book for your child. Remember that as adults we like to re-read favourite books, relax with a magazine or tackle something challenging. Children are the same, so encourage choices – maybe a familiar book for re-reading as well as something new. Don’t show disapproval if your child returns to favourites.
How can I choose books at the right level for my child?
Especially for younger children, be guided by the teacher. Most schools have some kind of system, sometimes colour-coded, by which they grade how difficult a book might be. This is particularly important when children are still learning phonics.
As a rule of thumb, you would expect a child to read a book with about 95% accuracy if they want to read it to themselves. Less than that, and it’s likely that they’re missing out, or misreading too many words for them to make sense of the story.
Introduce the ‘Rule of five’ to older children. Encourage them to read the first page or two of a new book. They must put up one finger for every word they cannot read. If they get to five fingers, then the book is too hard for them and they should choose another one. Don’t encourage them just to guess at words they can’t read.
What do I do if my child doesn’t enjoy reading?
• Make sure your child isn’t tired, hungry or desperate to watch their favourite TV programme when you read to them. Sit with them for a short time every day and read a book with them on a subject that interests them, whether that’s cars, animals or sports. Don’t expect them to read it for themselves. Just show them how interesting it is to be able to read so that they want to do it for themselves.
• For many children, especially boys as they get older, non-fiction books are more interesting than fiction, so it may be as simple as changing the type of books you are reading together. Talk to your teacher or a local children’s librarian to see what books are available that match your child’s interests.
• Give plenty of praise. Let your child know how pleased you are when he or she looks at a book. Show interest in what they have chosen. Children really do develop at their own rates when it comes to reading.
My son is switching off reading – what can I do?
Research shows that boys are less likely to enjoy reading than girls. More boys than girls struggle with reading and writing at school and boys are more likely to say they don’t spend any time reading outside the classroom. But there are ways you can help:
• It’s important to make sure that you’re reading something with your son which interests him. Many boys like non-fiction books, so try asking at your local library for recommendations – it may be that he’ll enjoy reading Horrible Histories or the Guinness Book of Records more than fiction.
• Role models are also important. Make sure boys see their dads, uncles or granddads reading, even if it’s a newspaper, so that it seems familiar and they can copy their reading behaviour.
• Finally, praise your son when something is read well. Equally, if he reads something incorrectly, don’t make him feel that this is bad – mistakes are just part of the learning process.
I think my child’s problems are more serious – what should I do?
Always speak to your child’s teacher and share your concerns again. Explain exactly what it is that is worrying you. Your child might have hearing problems, for example, that are getting in the way of learning to read and the school can arrange for tests to be done.
Here are links to organisations that deal with some other reading problems:
Speech and Language Therapists www.rcslt.org