How To Nurture A Love Of Reading
Some people could read all day (in fact, my sister once hid my book in the washing machine because I was spending too much time reading), while others show little interest.
But in this age of increasingly short attention spans, and the temptation to spend hours scrolling through webpages and social media without ever reading a full article; it seems more important than ever that we inspire the next generation not only to read, but also to appreciate what reading gives us.
Roughly 126 million young people around the world lack basic literacy skills; and in Ireland, one in 10 children leave primary schools with serious literacy difficulties. Children often start at a similar level, before some fall behind as their literacy struggles to keep up with increasingly difficult set texts; often leading to frustration and bad behaviour. But one cause for this is lack of reading outside class, and limited experience of different writing.
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And it’s not just about school performance: A great book can often be even more powerful than great films, as you spend more time getting to know the characters. And however great CGI gets, can it ever outdo the power of ones’ imagination? Here are some tips for nurturing a love of reading in your little ones; which could improve their attainment in school, and set them up for a life of literary adventure:
1. Set a good example
There’s a word for something you have to do, which no one else seems to be doing: Chores. So the best way to encourage your children to read, is to make it part of everyday life in your house, and something that is done for fun; rather than something they feel forced to do as part of their schooling.
Have books around the house, and take every opportunity to read yourself (even if it’s just for a few quiet moments at a time,) rather than waiting for that mythical stretch of free time you dream of. Reading doesn’t have to be saved for bedtime, or for holidays.
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2. Join your local library
Reading doesn’t need an antique leather chair or spending thousands on shiny new books. Make sure you join your local library, and get your little one their own membership card so they feel involved. A lot of libraries have great kids sections, so you can spend time together picking out books, and take a bundle home each time. Not only is it free, but also you can be more daring with your choices. If they don’t like a book; just move on to something else.
3. Read aloud (with the voices)
Far too often, once children have learned to read; the habit of story time quickly fades away. So make the effort to keep reading aloud; and if possible, spend some one on one time with each of your children. Don’t worry about how well you’re doing it, just throw yourself into the different voices, encourage your children to read bits aloud, and alternate reading with your partner, and any grandparents or siblings who might babysit.
Even when they are accomplished readers, kids love being read stories, and benefit from hearing the rhythm of the language, learning correct pronunciation, and getting to relax and just take it all in. Story time shows how there's something worthwhile in books, and there's something special about time spent with a parent.
4. Let them choose what to read (Don’t force it!)
As mentioned already, it is important that reading doesn’t feel like work for your children. They’re far more likely to enjoy reading, and to look forward to doing this independently, if they have some sense of ownership over the activity. Yes, this might mean that you have to read the same book over and over again; but it’s all part of them getting to grips with language. To avoid going out of your mind, you could suggest that you are allowed to choose 1 book each time, or challenge them to choose something new every so often.
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5. Discuss Books
While reading a story, stop and talk with your kids about what's happening: Talk about the characters; ask them to make predictions; and ask them to make connections. Look out for new words (how to say them, and what they mean); and if there are elements of classic books that seem outdated in their treatment of women, or other cultures (such as how they talk about India in The Secret Garden;) you could discuss how this has changed, rather than just skipping a section.
6. Indulge in whole series’
It's common for kids to become book lovers for life, after getting hooked on a series; and there are lots of options that might get kids hungry for the next installment. Possibilities include: The Moomins, Ivy and Bean, and Judy Moody for young readers; Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and Percy Jackson for older children; and The Hunger Games, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and The Raven Cycle for ‘Young Adults’. Children might also go through phases of particularly loving one genre, or author. Don’t worry if it’s not always ‘great literature’, it’s enough to know that they’re developing a passion for reading.
7. Tie stories in with real life
If you’re trying to bring reading into everyday life, why not tie their current book into real life, by introducing themed snacks (e.g Bananas, while reading Curious George), going to places that are featured in the books (like going for a walk in the forest while reading The Animals of Farthing Wood; or visiting the National Museum if you’re reading about Vikings) and playing Pooh Sticks while reading Winnie The Pooh. You could also look out for people/animals that look like any favourite characters, or encourage them to act out stories.
8. Challenge just enough to keep them excited
Many children love sticking with familiar things, but it’s also good to gradually stretch their comfort zone. If a new book is slightly trickier than what they’re used to; try alternating who reads, from page to page; or start reading before letting them take over. It could also work to choose a book with a film/tv version, so they already have some level of familiarity before diving in.
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Remember that there is no ‘normal’ age for children to become confident at reading, so don’t try to rush things. You’re encouraging a love of reading, not specifically teaching them to read; so books with more pictures, comic books, and humorous short stories, can be as valuable as novels.