Despite the fact that my partner and I are eternally putting off marriage and children in favour of freedom and flagrant irresponsibility, childhood reading habits is something that I have been incredibly passionate about for years. Reading was a massive part of my own childhood and I always just assumed that books were equally imperative to everyone. This, of course, is not the case. Many children simply hate to read. Many parents don’t read to their children at bed time, either because they’re busy and have hectic lives or because their children show no interest. The issue of reading and literacy, however, is extremely important, as one in six people in the UK have a level of literacy lower than that expected of an eleven year old and that last year the BBC revealed that England came 22nd out of 24 countries for literacy. This is all frightening news, when you consider the many benefits that reading provides. There are too many benefits to mention in this article, but studies have shown that those with good literacy skills have better health, more self-esteem and earn more money in better jobs. Central to reading problems is the fact that the reading habits we learn as little children follow us into adulthood. With this in mind, what we can do to encourage a healthy interest in books, fiction and knowledge from an early age?
Ensure that your children observe you reading regularly. Children are much more perceptive and intelligent than we often give them credit for, and when they see us reading they become accustomed to the idea that reading is a pleasurable thing, and children very often mimic their parents’ behaviour. It really doesn’t matter what you are reading. It can be any genre of book, a magazine or practically anything in printed form. Just seeing you read will reinforce its importance and do massive amounts to encourage your kids to read.
Make reading materials readily accessible and not restricted to just one area of the house. Have a variety of books located in almost every room. If your child is surrounded by books, they are far more likely to pick them up and indulge. It will also demonstrate that reading isn’t limited to the classroom, and studies have shown that children who read outside a school setting are more successful students than those who only read during school hours.
We’re all busy – there is seemingly no end to the list of things we have to do in any given day. Having said this, reading is simply worth sacrificing a slice of your day. To encourage reading, build it into your routine. Have set times to sit down and read a book every single day. Even if reading time is limited to ten minutes, the benefits will begin to shine through. Once reading becomes habit, your child is more likely to spend more time on their new hobby. It’s important to read with your child. Many parents successfully manage a bedtime story before sleep, and this is an effective bonding tool as well as a method to encourage literary curiosity.
Discuss books with your child. Ask them what their favourite parts of the book were, what they thought about the plot, if they had any trouble with the words used or anything else that you or your child wish to discuss. If your child hates the book, don’t be discouraged. Ask why and encourage debate. Just because they hate the book, it doesn’t mean that they hate reading altogether. You might just have a budding critic on your hands.
When discussing literacy in children, a point which repeatedly presents itself is acknowledgement. Always take a moment to let your child know that you are aware of how they are progressing. Try encouraging your children with a small treat when they have finished a book. This will reinforce positive associations with reading. As I write this, I am aware that it sounds like Pavlovian conditioning, but trust me, it works. As they mature, the need for this extra motivation will diminish and they will likely continue to read, because over time they have developed an appreciation and love for reading. One fun thing to do could be to keep an ongoing list of books that your child has completed. When the number goes from the tens to the hundreds, your child will feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, in much the same way we would if we were to complete a particularly challenging novel.
Take a family trip to the bookshop! Or the library; either can be a full trip. You are unlikely to go into a bookshop and not see something that interests you. Even if you have a very young child with you, they are likely to be attracted by the bright colours of the books and will eventually take them off the shelves and immerse themselves. Most books for toddlers and very young children are interactive in some way. They will be textured, they will be pop-up or they will have sounds to accompany the story. These are all amazing techniques used to attract and enthral young minds. Make the most of them. In addition when a child picks their own books, they will begin to take pride in their independence and ability to create their own entertainment. Try to work a trip into every week and make it routine.
Whatever you do, don’t judge what your children read. Never try to nudge them into reading more ‘high-brow’ books, books above their reading level or books you consider to be more ‘worthwhile’. Let them read at their own pace, even if their pace is slower than average. Even slow progress is much better than no progress at all and is something to be proud of. Let them read books they love and that they find intriguing, even if the books seem ridiculous to you. This love for reading will doubtlessly evolve and expand in the future. If, however, you disparage them or make them feel guilty for their reading habits, they will be discouraged and far less likely to read in their teenage or adult years.
I’d like to wish you the very best of luck in raising the next generation of fellow bookworms and authors.