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You can’t argue with the fact that the relationship between reading for fun and educational success is well established: in 2011 Clark and Douglas published a report showing a positive relationship between reading frequency, enjoyment of reading and academic attainment.
If you can kickstart this process early, and inspire in your child a love of the written word – rather than stories told through screens – then their future is bright.
Easier said than done? Here are six indispensable tips from the Head of Pre-Prep at St Nicholas Prep School, Miss Katie Paynter, and deputy head, Samantha Gibbon, to help encourage your child to read.
1. Reading isn’t all about books
E-books, newspapers – such as First News (aimed at children aged 7-14) and The Week Junior (for children aged 8 to 14), and magazines, such as National Geographic Kids, are all just as good. If they’re less interested in fiction, or are intimidated by the step up to chapter books, then these might prove more engaging.
However, it is important that children are still encouraged to read fiction as the grammar and sentence construction tend to be more complex in storybooks and it is important that these are modelled for the children, as they will have to reproduce this type of writing in their English lessons in the years to come.
2. Let them be unique
Central to the idea of reading for fun is that children are able to read books on topics that interest them, so if football is their passion, books about football will inspire them. If unicorns or fairies light their fire, these books can develop their interest in reading and a wider variety of subject matter can be introduced later, as their confidence in reading grows.
Where a child has older siblings it can be very tempting to pass down the older siblings’ books, particularly if their siblings enjoyed them. The potential pitfall here is that the younger child misses out on the experience of looking for a new book, whether in a library or bookshop, and the excitement of taking home a book he or she has chosen.
3. There is no need for speed
There is a tendency for parents of a primary school age child to think they can measure how successful their child is at reading, by how fast that child completes the school’s reading scheme.
In fact, completing a scheme is far less important than ensuring that a child understands what he or she is reading and is really enjoying it – no one ever got a job by writing on their CV ‘Excellent reader – finished Oxford Reading Tree Scheme by age 6.’
It is important that children are given time to become confident in their reading at each stage before moving on to more challenging books as, if a child is constantly being pushed up to the next level, he or she is likely to feel less confident in reading which can be discouraging.
4. Beware bad habits
Once children have mastered the technicalities of reading, it is easy to think that now they are off, they can read on their own. This can be a false dawn and children should continue to read aloud to parents or carers, if possible, to the end of their primary school years and beyond.
If young children are always left to read on their own, there is the temptation for them to start to skim read which, although a skill in itself, can detrimentally affect their comprehension skills.
Detail is often missed in favour of finishing the book to find out how the story finishes and it is this detail that is often the focus of comprehension questions. Once a young child is in the habit of skipping words when reading it can be hard to break.
5. Make it more active
Reading to children, or reading books together, as part of a child’s bedtime routine is a popular and constructive approach. It can also establish in the child’s mind a link between reading and relaxation – a link which can be carried through to adulthood. But reading to children at other times in a more active way can also be beneficial.
For example discussing the story, possible alternative endings, even drawing out the plot on paper or a white board can all be of significant benefit and this type of kinaesthetic approach will enhance a child’s comprehension of the text.
Discussing new vocabulary is also essential, using it in a different context or posting new words in a jar which can be revisited another day, can make the experience more active and exciting. Reading to your children can continue to be beneficial right up to the teenage years.
6. Let them have favourites
Sometimes a child may want to read the same book over and over again. This can be beneficial in cementing understanding of grammatical structures or vocabulary and can help them comprehend a concept or idea contained in the book more thoroughly. We know ourselves, as adults, that when we re-read a book we can often get something new out of it.
7. Don’t reward reading
Rewarding children for reading has the potential to backfire. The risk is that when you reward a child for their endeavours, as soon as the reward stops the child will no longer see the purpose of reading. Encouraging reading simply for the love of it will hopefully ignite a life-long passion.
Published on: 8th October 2018