Reading to Kids
Today I’d like to talk about reading to children.
My daughter loves to read. She has her favorites of course, the ones she goes to find on the shelf and brings out when I tell her, “Let’s read a story.” She tends to like one book for days on end, and can always find it even when I halfheartedly try to hide it!
The books she likes may not all have been designed for her age group – she still likes baby books and she will sit through quite long books designed for children two or three years older. She does occasionally get distracted halfway through and insists on turning the pages straight to the end, but she generally loves the stories and giggles with excitement when favorite passages come up, and says the well-known text along with me. The books she likes are almost all classics – best-selling books that have lasted for many decades.
When I worked at a children’s bookshop, parents would sometimes ask me, “How do I get my child to read?” or even more worryingly, “Give me some workbooks to get my child reading by the end of the year. I’ll work through them with her after school.”
Alarm bells ringing in my head, I would ask the questions, “Are there any books at home? Do you read to your child?” The answers were more often than not, “No.” Or, “What does that have to do with it?”
I had friends as a youngster whose houses were book-free zones. I remember asking one friend rather incredulously, “Where are your books?” She didn’t even really get what I meant, and thought I was referring to school books. “In my bag, of course!” I didn’t pursue it. In that house, there was a shelf with a few magazines, but that was it. I actually went looking for books at one stage, when her mum was out and she was in the bathroom, certain there must be some, somewhere. Nothing.
How can we encourage our children to read if there are no books at home – if reading is clearly not a part of our own lives? I don’t expect everyone to cultivate their own personal library, but don’t we all at least have access to a public library? We should cherish these wonderful institutions, to make sure that they are still around – more on your local library in future posts.
Reading should never be a chore, never be a last resort. It should be fun, looked forward to, spontaneously suggested by the parents and requested by the kids. Okay, so how?
For toddlers, think about what they like and how they learn. Is it through quiet, passive activities, or is it through touch, sound and movement? Reading needs to have the same sensory input for it to appeal to this age. Take some advice from legendary children’s writer, Mem Fox, whose website is full of fantastic tips and tricks to help you read aloud to your child, including some audio of her reading some of her most beloved stories. Her book, Reading Magic is also a great resource for parents and teachers. http://www.memfox.com/welcome.html
When there is a lion in your child’s picture book, then ROAR. When there is a noise, say the noise, yell the noise! When there is something hiding, whisper, build up tension. Change your tone as you read, to show the child what is happening. Look at the pictures and comment on them. If the book is rhythmic or rhyming, great – young children love these things. But don’t become a slave to the rhythm, slow down here, speed up there, pause for effect. Bring the rhythms to life.
For school-aged children, reading should never be associated with work. If your child is older, don’t make him sit there until he’s finished the book. Don’t make your child persevere with a book they are clearly struggling with, or seem completely uninterested in. It is not the child’s fault, it is the choice of book. Go to your local library or bookshop with friendly, knowledgeable staff (if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby). Tell them about your child, his interests, his personality. Listen to their suggestions, don’t poo-pooh their idea just because the book looks gaudy or the title includes the word “bum” or it seems to have more pictures than words, or it looks like a Japanese cartoon. None of this matters – all that matters is that it appeals to your child and makes them keen to turn the pages. If they learn that books can be fun, they will be more willing to try different types of books spontaneously, in due course.
Watch out for teachers who have lost their enthusiasm for the task. They are out there, hidden among all the wonderful, dedicated teachers. A sales rep for our children’s bookshop, visiting a school once, received an order for twenty copies of a particular book. When he ventured to suggest that perhaps it would be better for the children to choose a variety of books to suit their varied interests, the teacher was uninterested. “If I do it this way, at least they’ll all have read one book this year.”
One book? Way to aim for the best out of your students.
My own memories of primary school graded readers showed a similar disinclination to foster reading: I was reading novels by mid-primary school. But I still had to take home a graded reader every week, along the lines of “see Spot run. Run, Spot run!” for my parents to sign off on, so that the teacher knew (apparently) what level of reading I was at.
So watch out for these teachers. If you get one, and you can’t persuade them or their head of department, at least make sure that children’s reading life at home is more magical and engaging.
https://www.earlymoments.com/ – a little too focused on academic excellence and programs like Baby Einstein, but they have some very good advice on getting kids into reading early and the benefits, and also tips on reading to children. American site.
The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research has not only proven a causal effect between the frequency of reading to a child and his or her development, but have also for the first time measured the benefits.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/proof-of-benefits-of-reading-to-children-20130302-2fd7s.html#ixzz2TiPymaME – including the fact that children who are read to 6-7 days per week end up being almost a year ahead of their fellows in development of literacy, and have an advantage in numeracy too. The official report is here: http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/research/readtoyoungchild.pdf