We all know that confident readers make stronger learners in the early years. Later on, reading is one of the best ways for a child to expand their general knowledge and improve their creative writing. But how exactly do you encourage a love of reading in children? It all starts at home. Here are seven tips to get you started.
- Do not confine story time to just before bed. Often this is actually the worst moment to launch into a book as your patience wears thin post dinner and bath routine. Not every working (in-and-out-of-the-home) parent has the energy for a lengthy bedtime story and that’s perfectly fine. Instead, try to find a special time during the day or the week when you actually enjoy it. In our household, weekend mornings work best: our children are invited to snuggle under the blanket as soon as they rise and I don’t mind going through a long pile of books if that means keeping my toes warm a while longer. During the week, transition times often work well, especially with younger children who are sometimes irritable when they get home from school and will ask for snacks or screen time. Settling in for a story at that time can help everyone transition more smoothly from the outside world to home.
- Read books that you enjoy too. No one said that reading aloud scores more points when it feels like a chore. Your child may be a huge Peppa Pig fan, but you have a right to prefer something else. I generally stay away from books full of inside jokes for parents that the children don’t get because I feel it undermines what should be a bonding experience, but there are plenty of books that should please both of you, whether via their gorgeous design, clever rhymes or wise message.
- Use the library early and wisely. Libraries—where they still exist– are a wonderful resource: they save parents money, spare the planet and help to impart three important notions: not everything is immediate (i.e. it’s not Amazon Prime and sometimes we need to wait a while for a special book), not everything should be owned (borrowed is just as good and avoids clutter) and one must look after property (remembering to return the books and being careful not to damage them). All great, much-to-be-desired things. However, I will be the first to admit that trips to the library, especially when they involve multiple children, can quickly turn into a less than pleasant experience as they maliciously take dozens of books off the shelves, start running laps around the librarian and eventually decide to start using the books as hats, stools or weapons (of course this has never happened to me). So start them young –toddlers should make a weekly visit if possible–, establish some simple rules (you can borrow as many books as your age) and stick to them. Libraries have evolved and many are no longer the strictly hush-hush places of our childhood, they’re usually a good place to make new friends too.
- Make audio books your secret weapon. Children can usually understand stories with a more complex plot and a richer vocabulary than those they can read on their own. They may thus enjoy works destined to pupils a grade or two older. A Reception child, for instance, may delight in listening to Anna Hibiscus or Pippi Longstocking while not being able to read such works until a few years later. Use pockets of downtime during the day –such as a bus commute or a long wait during a sibling’s after-school activity– to hook your child onto audiobooks. On long car journeys, audiobooks can be a restful alternative to screen time, and one the whole family can participate in. Children are generally delighted when their parents show an interest in what they want to watch, read or play. Use this time as a bonding opportunity that will also help them garner new vocabulary so they are less hampered by new words when they move up to the next reading level. In addition, listening to audiobooks can help a child inject better expression in their reading as they will intuitively develop a finer understanding of the techniques the reader uses to involve them –the listener– and to differentiate between the characters’ voices.
There is a very large collection of audiobooks on Audible as well as on iTunes, though navigating the latter’s library can be tricky if you’re not sure exactly what you are looking for.
Great audiobooks to get you started
Winnie the Pooh (4-8)
Marge in Charge (4-8)
A Bear Called Paddington (4-8)
- Vary formats. Some children are not attracted to young reader chapter books such as the Magic Tree House or Ivy and Bean series. Sometimes it’s because they find the stories too repetitive or do not empathise with the characters. In this case, try some non-fiction books about topics they should be interested in such as volcanoes, dinosaurs, animals, trains or the human body. Other children miss the visual support they got from picture books. Their reading may get kickstarted by illustrated graphic novels such as Babymouse or good old classics like Tintin.
- Lead by example. If everything you read is on your tablet, phone or e-reader, you will have a harder time convincing your children to pick up physical books. A few times a week, try to swap a device for a book, settle in a common area of your home and just read –which I understand is easier said than done in modern life. If your children disturb you, simply invite them to join you with their own book. Reading side by side is one of life’s great pleasures. Some schools are trying to revive this lost art form by replacing a daily lesson with communal reading time and say they see a major improvement in reading speed and interest as a result.
- Do not stop reading to older children. They may no longer ask for a bedtime story and the opportunity will likely become scarcer as they take part in various clubs and after-school activities but if you can find the time, the rewards are phenomenal. Not only because of the shared experience and resulting joy but also because this time fosters a relaxed intimacy that may lead your child to share feelings or events when you least expected it.