"You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book." (Dr Seuss)
With the advancement in technology, children are much less likely to see adults reading books than in previous decades. Instead, children are becoming accustomed to seeing their role models looking at computer screens, mobile phone displays and Kindle tablets, however, this is not what we want for our younger generations, is it? Growing up without experiencing the power and enlightenment of stories designed to conjure up individual visions and emotions for every reader?
That is why it is so important to allow your children to see you reading traditional books, so that they may see it as a normal, everyday task (subsequently turning this into a more exciting activity will also be discussed below). So, go on, set an example and get reading!
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When was the last time you sank your eyes into a fine literary work?
Basic Reading Skills For Pre-Schoolers
To make picking up a book feel more instinctive, you might like to fill a bookcase in the home with some of your favourite novels, take a pile of books away with you on holiday or keep your favourite story proudly on display beside your bed – either of these options will ensure that your children get used to seeing books in their environment and perceive them as being a part of life in general.
Children learn what they live – Dorothy Law Nolte
If indeed children learn from their environment and day to day life, as Dr Nolte avers, then surely making books a part of your home environment and making reading an active part of your life and theirs is the best way to ensure that your little ones will grow up with a love of the written word.
An excellent way to foster great listening skills and reinforce the joy of reading is to read to your child, even as s/he is newborn.
It’s an excellent way to bond with your child, too!
The calmness of your voice and the rhythm of your speech will imprint themselves on your baby’s as-yet unformed consciousness, leading him/her to seek that same comfort later in life by using the same tool: books.
Naturally, you should continue the nightly reading exercise until s/he is old enough to first participate in story time and, ultimately, read by him/herself.
Incidentally, is your toddler driving you mad, asking for the same story over and over again?
S/he has reasons for doing so, one of them being that the story resonates on some deep level.
More importantly, s/he wants and needs to hear those particular accumulations of words because they are safe, familiar and quite possibly, your little reader is near to mastering that vocabulary!
Children need to see others around them reading to believe that it is something that they will even like, let alone something that could benefit them in the long run. That is why taking your child to the library from an early age can help to get them more excited about books, as they will have the opportunity to look through different categories and find ones that best suit their interests.
Why not introduce your young reader to the wonder of poetry?
It doesn't matter if they pick a book simply because of the illustrations, that is exactly the point of children's books. If they are inspired by the pictures, they will also take an interest in the words on the page.
To feed that natural curiosity, here are a few tips to make those daily reading sessions even more productive and enjoyable:
1. Make sure your child can see the page you are reading from.
Ideally, your finger would follow the words as you read so that s/he can ‘read along’ with you.
After a few times reading the same story, you might challenge your little listener: “what does this word say?” or “can you read this word?”.
You should make sure the word you select for these challenges is an oft-repeated word within the text and, to start out, it should only be one syllable, such as ‘red’ or ‘ball’ or ‘boy’.
Talk about empowering! You child will fairly glow with the praise you heap on him/her when she gets it right, and s/he’ll never know you have just firmly set their feet on the path of lifelong readership.
What if s/he gets is wrong? "Good try!" or a light tickle with a "No, silly! It's ____!" to take any sting out of your correction, and then continue reading. Try the exercise again a few days later, again with the same word from the same book.
2. Always make sure you read their chosen book word for word without skipping over any words or parts.
They may not know exactly which word or part you’ve omitted but you will certainly be informed that what you’ve read is not right! Have you ever experienced that?
3. As you read, you may pause to quiz your little listeners, especially if the story being read has been oft-repeated: “What happens next?” “Is this character nice or scary?” “Do you like this character?”
Such challenges stimulate memory, encourage critical thinking and help assert human values such as empathy, trust and recognising the difference between right and wrong.
As your child grows comfortable answering those questions, you might encourage debate: “Why do you think that character is good/smart or bad/silly?”
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As an extension to your home reading sessions, you may ask your local library whether they hold any events for babies or toddlers, as many now offer free classes and initiatives like Rhyme Time (where nursery rhymes are sung with participation from your little ones) and Story Time (where children's stories are read aloud, adapted to specific age groups).
Making an occasion of reading can change the way children see the task. Moreover, seeing their peers take enjoyment from a story in a public setting such as the library can encourage their own sense of excitement towards the reading process.
Thankfully, the tradition of buying little ones physical books to read and touch is still going strong, with many children’s rooms or nurseries containing storage for books and with many publishing houses embracing the sensory benefits that these can bring. Take, for example, the collection of ‘That’s not my…’ books published by Usborne.
Moving miles beyond the Goldilocks model of ‘too hard, too soft, just right’ which puts the burden of reasoning exactly what is just right on the reader, That’s Not My... books use a variety of materials and colours to emphasise exactly why that particular object does not belong to the mouse – the stories’ protagonist.
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While putting those books and others in your child's room and is a good start, you should ideally aim to read a story a night as part of your child's bedtime routine. Whether it is Mummy, Daddy, a caregiver or a grandparent reading the book, you should let your child be involved in the process of choosing the story.
A good bedtime story can help reduce stress as well as forge bonds between you!
Regardless of whether they pick the same book every night or if they like a variety of stories, the results will still be the same - research has shown that reading from a young age will encourage reading through to adulthood.
It’s important not to force your conceptions of what they should be reading or what they should like to hear about onto your child as, even at a very young age, they are already developing their personality and interests.
Remember also that kids' books don’t have to be focused on fairytales or make-belief lands, you can read your son or daughter books about otherwise mundane activities like brushing their teeth or taking a bath to make them seem more fun than they actually are!
Don’t be afraid to look silly when reading to your child. The more animated they see you are, the more they will want to recreate that emotion in their own reading aloud. It will also be a great example to them that reading can be fun and entertaining, and might even provide lasting memories from their childhood.
While you need to keep a relatively open mind about what you read to your children, understanding what they are interested in is important in encouraging them to read more.
For instance, if your child is mad about tractors, there is a strong chance that you will be able to get them excited about reading a story involving a farmer or one related to agriculture as opposed to reading them a story about, let's say, a hippopotamus taking a swim.
The story doesn’t end when you close the book, especially not in your child's eyes.
Be sure to keep your child’s interest levels ups by asking them questions about the book you/they just read and by talking over different aspects of the text.
Similar to the quizzing mentioned above, which takes place during reading, you might further test their memory by asking questions after the story ends.
For example, if you just read a book about a little girl jumping in muddy puddles, you could ask your child questions like: "Do you remember what colour her boots were?", "Was it raining?", "Why do you think she liked jumping in those puddles?" and "What did her Mummy say?". This will encourage them to form opinions, visualise and recall information.
Finally, if you haven’t already started one, you might like to consider setting up a chart to log your child’s reading achievements. Awarding your little reader with stickers for each milestone achieved can motivate them to want to read more and more!
You will soon see your child realise the benefits of reading!
Encouraging Reading For School-Age Children
Even more so at this stage than previously, it is vital to understand what your child enjoys to read and at what level of comprehension they are working with. By giving a child a book to read that is too advanced for their age or level, you risk putting them off reading tasks in future as they may see the activity as too much of a challenge or begin to feel ashamed of their reading ability.
Keeping reading fun with books containing lots of images will ensure that they continue to be inspired by literature and that their creativity and imagination is continually stimulated by reading tasks. Don't just rely on books that are being read at school, encourage your children to read additional material in their spare time and to develop a passion for a specific topic.
A Unique Partnership
All over the US, young readers are turning up at Pizza Hut to redeem coupons they’ve earned through that company’s ‘Book It!’ programme.
The premise is simple.
Kindergarten through 6th grade teachers set reading goals for their students. Those goals can be a certain number of pages, chapters or books to be read during a set amount of time. Once a student reaches that goal, the teacher issues a certificate for a free pizza!
Home-schooled children may also participate; their parents take the place of the teacher in administering the programme.
Naturally, it is not sufficient for the student to simply say s/he has read books; s/he must complete worksheets or perform some other task, such as writing a short summary, to prove that those books were read and understood.
This pizza initiative is a part of the larger Literacy Project charity meant to develop reading skills in people of all ages.
Is there such a programme active in your child’s school? If not, would you consider working to get one started?
Far be it from anyone to suggest bribery as a means of encouraging reading. However, when faced with a reluctant reader (and there is no clinical reason why s/he doesn’t want to read), what’s the harm in offering incentives for meeting a reading goal?
You may find that, along the way, your child has made reading a habit that, even after the withdrawal of any incentive, will continue to be its own reward!
Find out how you can work with your child's teacher to help your child read better.
Book series are great for encouraging reading, as the stories usually involve many of the same characters and follow on from one another, ensuring that your son or daughter remains curious about the unravelling events across two or more books.
For you primary school reader, you might try Terry Pratchett's young adult books. Some of those titles include: The Wee Free Men and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. The former title includes recurring characters called Nac Mac Feegles and a resourceful witch named Tiffany Aching while the latter is a refreshing new look at The Pied Piper.
Furthermore, using interactive resources, such as the above-mentioned worksheets, can be a good way of getting young children to become more involved in reading activities. Materials that offer images to colour in, activities to play or puzzles to solve can help the child to better engage with the content presented and begin to develop the skills required to interpret more advanced pieces of writing.
Naturally, the older your child, the more challenging those activities should be. You might design a questionnaire or challenge them to write a summary of the tale just read.
Meanwhile, introducing 'quiet time’, a period of half an hour to an hour whereby your children can do an activity of their choice (so long as it is quiet), can maintain their eagerness to read. They could either read a book or play on a video game, both of which can provide opportunities to practice reading in one way or another.
While you are probably keen to get your children outside and being physically active, there are educational advantages to sitting indoors if this time is limited, and it also provides an opportunity for them to relax and recover from a busy day at school.
A Word on Reading Disabilities
Let’s say you’ve followed your instincts and every recommendation to encourage your child to be a reader for life: you’ve filled your home with books and, indeed, you yourself are reading a book or magazine at every possible opportunity.
You offer to read to your child every day and even try to initiate nighttime reading sessions. To your dismay, all of your efforts are in vain; even frequent trips to the library do not foster a sense of excitement and anticipation in your little one.
It might be time to investigate whether your child might have a vision or reading disability.
Although it is not common for children to endure poor eyesight in their early years, there are vision tests designed for the youngest patients to determine if, in fact, there is some detriment to their ability to read caused by a physical condition.
If those peepers check out perfectly, another possible cause of a reluctant reader would be a disability.
The most commonly known reading disability is dyslexia, a condition where the words and letters just don’t seem to stay in place or in their proper order.
Commonly diagnosed when a child is school-aged – because more emphasis is placed on the ability to read at that time, it is nevertheless possible to make a tentative diagnosis in children as young as three years of age.
Early intervention into what could potentially devastate your child’s academic career would go along way to fostering more success than frustration with academia.
Furthermore, it would support and drive your fundamental goal of teaching your kids to love reading!
Teaching Teenagers How to Enjoy Reading
The chances are, if you have a teenager, that they find reading boring and perhaps even see it as something to be embarrassed about (let's face it, in today's society, it probably makes them seem more fun to be around if they tell their friends that they skateboard in their own time as opposed to saying they like to read sci-fi novellas!).
Regardless of whether reading is their ‘thing’ or not, you should never cease to encourage them to keep up with their reading as this will benefit them greatly when it comes to their education, not to mention further education when reading lists become longer.
Bike magazines, guides on fishing and books about horses are just some examples of the types of literature you could present to a child uninspired by reading to get them more excited about the activity. It all depends on what their likes and dislikes are, so do what you feel might work for them.
Nevertheless, some children might have embraced the fulfilment that they get from reading a piece of writing and might be keen to expand their reading.
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While fiction and non-fiction books written by adults are equally beneficial, teenagers might prefer the idea of reading stories written by authors not much older themselves. Not only might they find it easier to relate to the topics and themes, but they might also be inspired to express themselves in writing and tell their own stories.
Lucy Saxon, for example, an ex-student of the esteemed Bishop's Stortford College who fell ill with ME as a teenager, won a book deal and has since published a collection of fantasy novels aimed at teens. Although now in her early twenties, Saxon started writing at the age of fourteen and is a fantastic role model for young readers and writers alike, proving that you can be a successful writer even when faced with life-changing symptoms.
Perhaps more in tune with the lives of teenagers is a book titled Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight.
Amelia, a high school student, is accused of plagiarism. Her mother, a single parent, simply cannot believe her daughter would do something so out of character! As she rushes to the school, she finds the way blocked off by police cars. Someone has tumbled from the school building's roof! From there, the author walks readers down the convoluted path of what it means to be a teenager in today's ultra-competitive society.
What about dystopia - the perennial backdrop of teenagers' lives?
Often overlooked is Steven King's epic Dark Tower series. The setting is Earth-like, but in a time when the world has moved on. Today, of the ruins of Gilead, the last Gunslinger chases the Man in Black, hoping to find his redemption. Along the way, he makes improbable friends, meets and re-meets a prodigal son and learns the most fundamental lessons of life at the top of the Dark Tower.
Note that, unlike other Stephen King tales, this one does not involve any ghosts or creepy figures, and the only horror this epic describes is that of being condemned to perpetually losing those you love - an aspect of the human experience we all can relate to.
Is there more out there for your children and teenagers to read? There most certainly is - far more than we could list here.
Asking your child's teacher or librarian for recommendations is a good place to start; reading young adult Internet forums to find out what they're buzzing about is also a good idea.
But the best plan, by far, is to talk with your kids. Find out what kind of themes they'd like to explore and what they'd like to read: that is, without a doubt, the very best way to keep your kids reading!