There have been a lot of articles recently on how to raise readers so I thought I’d add my two cents to the pile! Harrison loves reading right now, but it hasn’t been a straightforward journey. Reading is a subject that is close to my heart: I studied the subject of boys and reading engagement for my Masters assignment whilst training to become a teacher. Some of that insight helped me with Harrison’s own reading journey, but it’s also been trial and error both in the classroom and at home.
Start them young
First stop for raising readers, start them young. I bought Harrison his first book when he was just a few weeks old. The husband thought I was crazy: how is a baby who barely opens his eyes able to engage with a book? Anyway, I persevered and read the black and white ‘Animal Sounds’ book everyday. Eventually Harrison was able to take an active interest, helping me to turn the pages and even point to the animals. In time, he moved onto mimicking the animal sounds and naming the animals themselves. Books have a direct impact on language development. Perhaps more importantly, sharing a book is a really lovely way to spend time together. Starting young helps them for school readiness in later years.
This comes in many forms: read to your child, share read a book or let them read to you. Also, show them good reading behaviours by engaging in a good book yourself. Children will quickly catch on if you don’t read, but are asking them to! Now you might simply read one book, one time through but if mine are anything to go by, you’ll find yourself repeating Dear Zoo or The Hungry Caterpillar several times over. Young children love the repetition and this also helps them to learn.
Make bedtime stories part of the routine
I guess this really links in with the above, but read your children a bedtime story until they no longer want one. Your kid will love this special time with you and it’s also a brilliant part of the bedtime routine. A comment from a boy I interviewed for my MA will always stick with me:
‘My parents say I’m too old for a bedtime story. I miss that time.’7 year old boy
I honestly felt heartbroken. I found it pretty hard not to dissolve into tears right in front of him. Now I’m not actually judging his parents here: they must’ve genuinely thought he was too old – perhaps he was an excellent reader and deemed independent enough to read by himself? However, I resolved to always read a bedtime story to Harrison unless he told me not to. Currently we are reading our way through the Michael Morpurgo back catalogue.
When your children are older, start to share books with them. By this I mean read a page / paragraph each or take on the roles of different characters. This can make reading, for emerging readers in particular, much more enjoyable. By becoming characters (through expression of voice), emphasising particular words and even stopping for punctuation, you are providing your children with the skills to read aloud. There may be days when the kids come home from school exhausted and reluctant to read so instead of pushing a reluctant reader, you can try the shared technique.
Forget about levels
Seriously, it’s the best approach to surviving those early years. Admittedly I was a little preoccupied with Harrison’s levels when he first started school (as a year 6 teacher I was all about data for a while), but when we eventually abandoned home readers in favour of his own choice of books we all had a much more enjoyable time of it. Ironically, it was when Harrison started school that he got turned off reading. He didn’t get phonics (he still doesn’t use the strategies despite being a really fluent reader now) and absolutely HATED the levelled readers. Hardly surprising since most were published in the 1980s! That being said, please communicate any worries you have over reading with the class teacher.
Hand over the power
To raise your reader, let your child choose the book. Visit the library or go to the bookstore, but let them have the ultimate power. I once saw a man shout at his son and get completely furious all because he disapproved of the book choice. Now if that’s not a way to turn off a young reader, I don’t know what is! Now that’s not to say you can’t influence the choice at all. You could get them to choose between three or even check suitability by asking them to read a few lines first. If the book would currently be too mature or too difficult you could always try saying ‘That’s a good choice but let’s leave it until you’re a little older’ or ‘That book looks wonderful, we’ll read it as our bedtime story.’
Join the local library
Once your child gets the reading bug, they’ll get it full on! If you’re not careful you’ll be bankrupt within a few weeks, so sign them up to the local library. Most libraries are tragically underused, meaning you’ll also be doing your bit to save them! You will not believe the amount of brand new books we’ve picked up from the library recently. The pressure is off to a certain extent too because it doesn’t really matter if they don’t like the book either.
Make reading relevant
Don’t ignore the non-fiction. Going on holiday soon? Bring out the atlases and world maps – it’s all reading. Just been on a visit to the zoo? Check out some books on mammals. Is you kid asking some random question about the weather? Try browsing through books rather than immediately reaching for google. You’ll also be teaching some great research skills! On a recent holiday to Britain, we got out all of the travel book we could get our hands on.
Find a series or genre and run with it!
The first book that Harrison read all by himself and LOVED? Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey. He quickly worked his way through the entire series, then the Weirdo novels by Anh Do followed by Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Treehouse books. The common theme is that they’re all hilarious (to an 8 -year- old) and most importantly, still contain illustrations. Never underestimate the power of illustrations – it doesn’t mean the book is too easy but it does certainly help young readers to engage with the book.
Turn books into projects
Engagement through art? Yes please! Sometimes you just need another avenue and themed weeks or projects are a great way to do this. When we focused on ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ one week, both kids (aged 18 months and 8 years) got so much out of it.
Alternatively, try a book basket or activity themed around a favourite book. We recently made ‘Gruffalo crumble‘ for a sensory play session.
If all else fails, try another way
I fully believe that this should ONLY be used as a last resort, when you’ve tried all of the above and more, but if your kid is still hating on books, try an e-reader. I would only recommend this for older children because I think that ‘real’ books should be used in the early years (I’m also not a fan of reading apps on iPads). However, full transparency here, I do have a Kobo and I absolutely love it!