Reading Matters: How to encourage a child to read for pleasure

Reading is a subject I am passionate about. I worked as a full time primary school teacher, am a mother of 4 children and have spent the last 16 years delivering 'Educating Matters' seminars to thousands of working parents on the subject of how they can support their children's reading. In all my experience and research, one very powerful thing always sticks out in my mind. A study back in 2002 covering 31 countries concluded that 'Being more enthusiastic about reading and a frequent reader was more of an advantage, on its own, than having well-educated parents in good jobs.' Children from deprived backgrounds performed better in tests if they enjoyed reading, than those from more affluent families.

A parent is a child's first and most important teacher and plays a vital role in instilling in his/ her child a love of reading.

Reading is the key to gaining knowledge and enables children to access all areas of the school curriculum. It plays a vital role in children's social and intellectual development, teaching compassion, sensitivity and how to make judgments. It allows them to know, feel, learn and escape from their own limited world.

Most young children enjoy being read aloud to by an adult and the majority will learn to read independently at primary school.

Although many children can read they are not all ‘readers’. There are hundreds of other things they would rather be doing, usually involving some form of screen.

12 top tips to establish the habit of reading and reading for pleasure:

• The key is finding 'The Right Book'

Every time your child reads something boring, too challenging or too easy, they will be put off. By contrast, a single book can transform the experience of reading for a child. If it is a book that they enjoy so much that they can’t put it down, it can open the door to a whole series, or genre, allowing the reading habit to be established. Finding that right book takes time. It may involve going to a specialist bookshop, speaking to the class teacher, or your child's peers, reading online reviews etc.

• Reading does not always have to involve a book

Reading should be an integral part of everyday life. It may be newspapers, magazines, comics, magic tricks, instructions to a game, road signs, a TV guide or the back of a cereal packet. Just ensure that they have access to a full range of genres and if possible equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction.

• Parents act as a role model for their children

Make sure they see you reading regularly (this is particularly relevant for fathers and sons). Make a 'family reading time' at the weekend where everyone sits together and reads their own thing. Children need to see that reading is an enjoyable and worthwhile thing to do.

• Read aloud to your children 

Even if they are confident, independent readers, nearly everyone enjoys being read to. With older children it gives you an opportunity to discuss what they are reading and ensure that their comprehension is solid.

• Make time for reading

Don't overload your children with too many activities. By the time they have been to after-school clubs, had dinner, a bath, music practice, completed their homework, a bit of down time etc. they fall into bed exhausted and have very little time to read. 10 minutes a night doesn't really allow you to 'get into' a book. Longer periods of uninterrupted time such as weekends or school holidays are a more productive time for reading. One trick is to say lights out unless you are reading!

• Parent’s attitude

Keep cool and be supportive, never show your fears or make a big issue if they are reluctant to read. Reading will not be pleasurable if children feel pressure or anxiety from their parents.

• Praise/feedback

Get into the habit of telling children what they have done right instead of what they have done wrong e.g. “I liked the way you used expression” or “You worked out that difficult word all by yourself”. This is far more motivating. Don’t correct every mistake. When children are corrected too much, they are scared to try for themselves and become frustrated or lacking in confidence.

• Introduce the book 

Books must be introduced, presented, talked about and savoured together. Do some research, look at reviews, websites with book suggestions and explain why you think it will appeal to the child.

• Range of genres

Expose children to a full range of different genres and styles. Follow their interests, tastes and experiences.

• Reviews

For children hooked on books, encourage them to exchange ideas on what they thought about a book, reflect, and be critical. Suggest that they write a letter to their favourite author. Many authors have their own websites or forums to write book reviews. Respect your child’s opinions and tastes without banning certain books that they will just cling to more fiercely.

• Take turns reading

This gives children a break and an example to emulate. Break up the character parts so you can take turns to read. You read one page and they read one. Read for a few minutes until you get to a very exciting bit and then ask them to continue and tell you what happens next.

• Comprehension

Talk about what you read together and what they read independently. How the child thinks a character is feeling, what they would do in that situation, what is going to happen next, retell the sequence of events and work on inference.

By Rachel Vecht – Director of Educating Matters

Educating Matters provide seminars, webinars, courses and one-to-one consultations for parents/carers in the workplace, schools, homes and remotely. Covering a wide range of education and parenting related topics.

www.educatingmatters.co.uk

‘Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher’