As an English teacher and tutor I am often told by worried – and sometimes exasperated – parents that despite their best efforts their child just will not read. I hear this said by parents about their young child and by parents about their teenager; and in the case of parents who are desperate for their teenager to read, this issue may be doubly concerning. Firstly because this may be a longstanding issue, (these parents may well have heard their kid’s teachers tell them again and again that he/she really should read more) and secondly because they realise that with GCSEs looming, reading will now be all the more useful in ensuring their child’s academic success. Given the importance of the issue, then, and the amount of times I hear it raised by parents, I thought I’d write about it.
We all instinctively know that it is important for children to read. But what we may not have known is just how important it is. Research has shown that reading for pleasure at 15 is a strong factor in determining future social mobility. In other words, research now tells us that reading is not only likely to make our children interesting and well-rounded in the future, but better paid too. The question is how do we get children to turn to reading? How do we change the way a teenager may view reading, and how do we get younger children to develop a healthy reading habit? Below I offer some suggestions.
Parents showing an interest in reading
Kids are going to be influenced by the environment that they find themselves in. If you want your child to take up reading but you don’t read yourself, it might be a good idea for you to start as well. Leading by example would be a great way to make reading normal and familiar, and to prevent your child viewing it as a chore. It would also promote an appreciation – and dare I say love – for reading. Simply put, the more children see it as a good thing, the more they will want to do it.
Involving yourself in what your child is reading is also a very good idea. There are many benefits to reading the same book that your child is. For older children this could be done independently. And your joint connection with the book could be through talking about it, and analysing it together. For younger children this could mean reading the book together – that is, reading sections in turns. In both instances such participation with the child’s reading would be a great encouragement, especially for children who aren’t used to reading. And either method is a really good way of keeping track of what they are reading, and whether they are actually getting on with it!
On a related note, using incentives might be useful, especially for those who have a hard time getting started. Again, this means keeping track of reading habits, which can only be a good thing.
Making sure reading becomes regular is very important. Developing a connection with your child which revolves around reading is going to be richer and of more benefit if there is a consistency to it. And related to this, when it comes to instilling an appreciation for books and reading, it would be all the more powerful if regularity was brought into the picture. So for instance, If you want to start reading yourself to set a good example, try doing so on a regular basis; or, if you want to go to the library together to discover more, commit to doing so regularly.
Making sure that the book choice is relevant
Strong readers will read a range of books. This is because they have developed a keen curiosity – they have done this through reading a lot. Getting through many books exposes these readers to a range of subjects, and they will then go on to read about the ones that interest them. I can remember this myself: the amount that I read had an impact on the variety of books I began reading.
Many children don’t think that reading is for them, but this is because they haven’t had their interest piqued by reading yet – perhaps they have read books in school that they couldn’t relate to. At any rate, for a child to become a strong reader, to develop an interest in a variety of areas, they need to begin with books that are about subjects which interest them already so that the process I’ve outlined above can begin.
So, this means aligning their book choices with their interests, and of course this will depend on the child. It is likely, however, that a reluctant reader will have a passion for films that were adapted from books. And what a convenient way to get them started. And you’re really in luck if they’re a fan of a series of films – Harry Potter or Twilight for instance. The good thing with interest-deciding reading choice is that the child won’t be confined. If an older child were to like reading about teenage love, they could read Malorie Blackman, but equally, Charlotte Bronte. And though of course younger children won’t be able to read Bronte, their interest for a particular subject will still lead to a range of texts. Another example I can think of would be comic books. They are good for children of all ages and of all abilities. There are easy comics, and these would be relevant to younger children, or children who struggle with reading. And there are harder comics for older children, or for younger children who are interested in comics and want a challenge. For older children who want a challenge, there are graphic novels (which are basically comic books for grownups), a great one being Maus, an ingenious depiction of the Jews’ plight in the Holocaust.
On top of relatable books, it’s also about the child being exposed to writing that is enjoyable, which normally means good writing: a book with a good story and fascinating characters. The chances of a child knowing about and being interested in Sri Lankan village life in the 1950s is slim. But such doesn’t matter if the book about it is really good
The problem that many parents face is not knowing what to choose. Of course they know all about their child’s interests and whether they would want something challenging or not, but they might not know how that relates to a good book choice. Two things on this 1) Libraries – many school libraries have a great selection of books with very helpful librarians. But if it’s wanting, then going to the local library might be an idea. 2) You could speak to your child’s teacher about book recommendations – they may even have put together a reading list.
Thinking outside the box
Unfortunately it is the case with some children that they have developed a stigma for books; and this probably isn’t their fault. But this is where technology might help. It may be that a child feels more comfortable using a Kindle or an IPad. Similarly, audiobooks can be of use to children who are really finding it difficult to get started. Also, there are plenty of websites that offer great resources to improve reading skills and vocabulary.
It could be that some of these methods mentioned dispel some of the stigma, build confidence, and allow for a route into reading.
There is some really good stuff available on the Internet- there are websites that will offer advice and will provide resources; National Literacy Trust is a good one, the website address is literacytrust.org.uk
There are some really good articles in the Daily Telegraph about getting children into reading, particularly by Lorna Bardbury. She offers some great reading lists too, for children of all ages. The Guardian also has journalists, authors and academics writing about children and reading, and these are really worth reading as well.
Lastly, audible.co.uk is a great site for audiobooks. They have a really good selection of books for all ages.