We all know reading is a fundamental life skill.
Many of us are aware that children who read for pleasure are more likely to be happier, have better mental well-being, achieve their potential academically, and develop skills like empathy and creativity. (If you’re interested, there’s more about this here on the Literacy Trust’s website.)
But what can YOU do to help your child LOVE reading?
How can you help your child see reading as a pleasure rather than a chore?
What can you do if your child insists they JUST DON’T LIKE reading?
Here are my top ten tips, drawn from experience as a mum, a children’s author-illustrator, a former leader of parent/carer baby/toddler story sessions, and an ex-KS2 teacher:
1. Start early
Introduce books when your child is a tiny baby, and make time every single day to share books with pictures.
As well as helping your baby to hear the rhythm of language, and develop speaking and listening skills, reading to your baby is a brilliant way to give them comfort, attention, stimulation and happiness. It also starts them on their journey to becoming a reader.
2. Establish reading as a habit
As your child becomes a toddler, keep reading aloud to them regularly. If you can, visit a library at least once a fortnight and borrow a wide selection of books. Most libraries allow you to borrow 20 books at a time for free! Pop along to story sessions and let your toddler see their peers enjoying books. For reading to become a loved habit, repetition is the key.
3. Extend the reading fun
Make-up (or Google) creative activities based around a book your child has enjoyed.
As a leader of community book-based toddler sessions, I found that arts and crafts, physical activities and games helped to maintain a love of books.
Here are six easy ideas to get you going:
- Make the telescope from Nick Sharratt’s There’s A Shark In The Park.
- Potato print Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar.
- Make some Paper Dolls after reading Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb’s beautiful book.
- Go on an ACTUAL Bear Hunt after reading Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s well-loved rhyming book.
- Make a fruit salad together after reading Oliver’s Fruit Salad by Vivien French and Alison Bartlett.
- Have a game of Hide & Seek like Frank and Bert in Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’s brilliant book.
4. Don’t get too hung up on your child’s school reading scheme
As a mum, I know this one well!
When your child starts school, if they ever appear reluctant to engage with their levelled reading scheme book, why not try to de-stress the whole ‘let me listen to you read’ situation by…
- MODELLING (aka YOU read the book)
This approach, particularly if you can get your child to follow the text as you read, has huge benefits (and it’s certainly better than an argument/meltdown). You could even make purposeful errors. Not just for them to correct, but to show you’re not perfect either
- TAKING TURNS
Start with a word each, then a sentence each, progress to a paragraph each. Try taking turns where one of you only has to read the dialogue. Eventually, take turns reading a page each. Always pile on the praise.
- EMBRACING YOUR SILLY
Silly voices and different accents always go down well, but anything goes with this one as long as some reading happens! Can you read this while standing on your head? Try reading this sentence backwards.
- RELAXING school’s ‘RULES’
Forego reading scheme books now and then in favour of visiting the library, buying a comic/magazine to share, or introducing your child to a funny book you know will make them laugh (This was a game-changer for us – I’ve blogged about it here). Remember, variety is the spice of life and ALL READING COUNTS!
5. Let children choose their own books
I’m a firm believer in free choice when it comes to books.
So what if your child chooses a book that’s too hard for them? You can read it to them.
It doesn’t matter one iota if your child keeps choosing the same book, or the same author, or keeps picking books you believe are ‘too young’ or ‘too silly’ for them. Reading for pleasure is about free choice and enjoyment. Once a child develops a love for reading, I guarantee they’ll widen their preferences.
6. Find books that represent your child
Representation is a key factor in a child’s reading for pleasure journey.When a child sees themselves in a book (situations, families, heritage, appearances, identities etc.) they feel validated, and their self-confidence sky-rockets as they realise they’re not alone.
Find books your child can relate to and give them the opportunity to read them. (I’ve blogged about this in relation to rainbow families previously.)
7. Engage in Bookish chatter
Talk to your child about books and what they’re about. Ask your child what they did/didn’t like about a book. Let them speak freely so you get a real sense of what kind of books they are enjoying. Ask your child what they’d really love to read a story about, then research if one exists. (Twitter is a great tool for getting answers and recommendations.)
8. Find books that link to your child’s interests and hobbies
Whether non-fiction or a brilliant story, a child who loves football but hates reading, is more likely to read a book about football than a science-fiction book about a time-travelling porcupine.
If your child professes to dislike reading, but loves Minecraft or Lego or Roblox, find a book that aligns with their passion.
A child in a school I visited as an author recently spoke with passion about a book about F1 cars. Admittedly, he loved the pictures, but he was reading plenty of words too. And, importantly, enjoying reading.
9. When you know your child is capable of reading independently, don’t stop reading aloud to them
Every child is, of course, different. But, for as long as they’ll let you, read aloud to them at bedtime. This is your opportunity to introduce different genres, start conversations, laugh, cry, hide under the covers together! It won’t last forever, so my advice is to do it for as long as they’ll let you.
10. Be a reading role model
Visibly read for pleasure yourself. Not just at night in bed where no one knows you’re doing it.
And, to finish, four, ‘PLEASE DON’TS’ from me:
To avoid shattering confidence, please don’t tell your child they are ‘too old’ for a book.
Whatever your personal thoughts, please don’t tell your child they’ve chosen a girls’/boys’ book.
When things get stressful (and I say this with particular regard to school reading scheme books) please don’t pile on the pressure or lose your temper.
However hard it feels, please don’t give up. If you’re reading this blog, you’re obviously doing your best and that’s all you can do.