Reading is the gateway to the world of information and creativity. There are many ways we can help our children develop a love of reading right from the beginning, and to keep their interest as they progress. There are also many things we can do to encourage and motivate children who have started reading, but are struggling to improve or enjoy it. Most research on reading agrees that the most important part is how the child FEELS about reading, and positive reinforcement and association really helps.
Start any reading session with a positive comment – not simply “well done” or “clever boy” but praise something in the way your child read last time. Perhaps how they persevered with the difficult words, and tried hard to sound out each word clearly, or how they remembered the punctuation marks, or put some expression in. You could also praise how calmly they came to read, or how consistent they have been remembering to bring their story home, or simply how much you love spending time with them.
When it’s getting tough, try to keep positive. Empathise with your child just how hard it is to read, particularly if everyone else seems to be finding it easy. Take a break, get a glass of water, run around the garden, jump up and down, and come back again a little later. You may find it easier to keep calm and be patient if you have something to do with your hands, like knitting….
It can also help a struggling reader to have some privacy, particularly from annoying or smug siblings. And even if they are finding reading hard, there is always something they are doing right. Look for small things that they are succeeding at, and point them out to the child.Here are a few practical ideas that you may find helpful.
Try to make sure the place you read in is quiet, and warm, well lit, and generally comfortable.
Create a special place for your child’s books - decorate a box, or shelf – or a personalised nameplate for their own books.
Read books in front of them and talk about what you have read recently, or stories you remember from your childhood. Tell them what you like about your books and ask their thoughts or opinions about the stories they are reading. Discuss the ideas or themes within the stories. Sometimes you can pause as they’re reading to ask what they think will happen next or why the characters acted as they did or what they would have done in that situation. You want to encourage interest in the story rather than just focusing on the mechanics of reading.
Encourage them to read road signs, games manuals, instructions, recipes, menus, magazines, backs of cereal packets, even internet pages on a topic that interests them.
Look out for topical stories – at Christmas or Easter time, or about the seaside in the summer, or places you have been or are going, or to do with particular events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics.
Try having a Story Tea or Story Bath, or make a Reading Den or try reading in your bed on Sunday morning, as a special treat.
Take a book to the park, read with a torch, or read as a family with each member taking turns or parts. (Remember, children can “read” more complex stories in groups, than they can on their own.”)
Let yourself go when you are reading out loud – use lots of expression, in your voice and in your face and body too. Try some sound effects – they will either love it or tell you to calm down. You could even go for costumes....
Make up quizzes, crosswords, wordsearches or anagrams of characters, or places, in familiar and favourite stories.
Personalize the stories using their names.
When reading familiar stories, leave gaps for them to fill in or make up alternative silly versions.
Help them write their own stories, with spaces for pictures, using a laptop and printer to “publish” copies and distribute to family members.
Use the library – most libraries let children take out many books at a time, and often there are no late return fees. Books can be renewed on-line and particular stories ordered for collection. Schedule a regular library trip, and let them choose some of their own stories, as well as those you think they will like, and try talking to the librarian to find out what’s new or particularly popular. Take out books for yourself too.
Give a book allowance –it doesn’t have to be big and can be part of, or additional to, any pocket money.
Give subscriptions to a magazine as a birthday present or special treat – there are so many to choose from. Receiving a named copy of a magazine in the post is exciting for children!
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