How do you entice a child away from a smart gadget to something that seems as old-fashioned and static as a book? Every parent is familiar with this struggle: A 2015 UK Scholastic study found that there has been a 10 per cent decline in children reading [books] for fun. The same study found that the most powerful predictors of reading frequency for children ages 6 to 17 are:
• A child’s belief that reading books for fun is important.
• A child’s reading enjoyment.
• Parents’ own reading frequency.
• Parental involvement in their child’s reading habits.
In other words, it’s up to YOU.
Since physical books are less distracting than e-books and help you process the plot or information better, how do you encourage your child to start reading?
1) Create a family culture of reading
When was the last time you read a book for fun? Children need to learn that reading isn’t just something you do in school. As Dr. Seuss famously wrote, ‘The more you read, the more you know. The more than you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Books are portable magic that transport you to other lands, times, places ― all you need to do is open the cover.
However, reading can be difficult, so children need to see the people closest to them engaged in the act of reading for pleasure. They need to know there is something worth the effort sandwiched between those book covers. Parents, grandparents, older siblings, aunts and uncles all need to be seen reading — and enjoying it!
So how do you show this to your child?
• Make books or other reading materials available in the house.
• Make a habit of having everyone share something they read that day at the dinner table.
• Share your favourite childhood books with your child.
• Create family traditions like weekly visits to the library — a plus, your child will probably enjoy the outing!
• Wrap books up as gifts and have children open one a day to read together, leading up to an important event like Christmas or a birthday.
2) Read aloud to your child
Not only do children love hearing stories, a habit of reading together offers you both an opportunity to bond. Get in a routine of reading to your child at least 20 minutes EVERY DAY.
Make this a time that you both look forward to by creating “cosy time”. Find a quiet, comfortable place with no distractions (yes, you both need to put down that smartphone/tablet) and read. A common time to do this is at bedtime, but “cosy time” can be at other times: After school, when you both need a break, or during Sunday morning coffee.
You can also ask other family members to engage in it. And your child will begin to associate reading with love and connection.
Read on for three more tips to steer your child to read…
3) Make reading enjoyable
Don’t push and don’t use reading as a punishment. Children will learn to read at different rates and there is no proven advantage to learning to read early. In fact, in some countries, like Finland, children don’t learn to read until they start school at the age of 7!
While there are no known benefits to acquiring reading skills early, there are many drawbacks to pushing a child to learn to read; namely, that he will begin to associate reading with struggle and not pleasure.
Reading shouldn’t just be about reading the words on the page. Talk about the pictures. Invite your child to imagine and speculate.
To encourage your child to grow as a reader, while making it something you both enjoy, try these strategies:
• Once your child begins to read, invite him to read a page or two.
• If he is struggling with a word, give it to him, so he won’t lose the meaning of the story.
• If a child substitutes a word, see if the substitution makes sense. If it does, let it go. If it interferes with the meaning of the story, ask him to try again because that didn’t make sense to you.
• Stop at the earliest signs of frustration or fatigue. Remember, the goal is to encourage a love of reading. A motivation for and love of reading will serve a child much better in the long run than a set of reading skills acquired through struggle.
4) Never stop reading
Just because your child can now read on his own doesn’t mean you should stop reading with him! Keep reading to your child. As children get older, they will crave more complicated plots and sophisticated stories, but may not have developed the reading skills necessary to tackle these books independently. Instead of losing them to books that don’t interest them, you can bridge the gap and give them access to these more difficult texts by reading to them.
Eventually, your child may outgrow “cosy time” (it may be surprisingly much later than you think, though) and you’ll need a new strategy. How about reading the same books separately and then discussing them? The world of Young Adolescent books can be just as much fun for adults as they are for kids — do the words “The Hunger Games” ring a bell? The bonus is that you will continue that connection and have the opportunity to talk to your child about what inspires, scares, motivates, affirms and challenges him. Those of you with teenagers know this is a unique opportunity to find out what is happening in those hormonal brains!
5) Give your child some choice
Certain types of print material may more motivating to children over others. Follow your child’s interest: Basically, the rule is what he wants to read is the right thing. If your child likes to cook, get stacks of cookbooks. Reading recipes is reading.
Plus, you can always try to leverage an interest in a subject to another genre of print. For example, if your child likes reading graphic novels, he may like adventure stories or fantasy novels. But again, don’t push. Make materials available and give your child an opportunity to see what appeals to him.
Leslie Davis is a training consultant with the British Council Singapore.
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