I once read a quote by the children’s author, Emilie Buchwald, “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents,” and I couldn’t agree more. As a Kindergarten teacher, it is often my answer to most questions regarding any child’s learning.
“They won’t do their home reader” … Read to them.
“What can I do to get them ready for Kindergarten?” … Read to them.
“Why isn’t she learning to write as fast as Little Johnny?” … Read to them.
But what about once they have learnt to read themselves?
“Hooray!” shout most parents.
“Oh no!” I exclaim.
So, the message I need to get across is this…
“Please Don’t Stop Reading to Your Children!”
And here’s why…
Knowing about books, has to come before loving books.
If the only books your child is engaging with are the ones that they are reading at school as part of their classroom guided reading (which, let’s face it, mostly have the narrative depth of a puddle), then they are only going to associate reading with challenges and work. If, in addition to their classroom learning, your child is engaging in the nightly snuggle with you, eagerly devouring every last character, setting and storyline of The BFG, then their perception of books and reading is going to be vastly different. The child who is read to, becomes a lifelong reader, and a lifelong reader becomes a lifelong learner. When your child sees you loving this time as much as they do, when they see you laugh and cry and get excited about the story that you are sharing, this instills in them a clear association with reading and enjoyment. They quickly learn that reading is not just a part of the morning Literacy block at school. It’s a part of their life.
Enriching their Vocabulary
Even the most talkative of us, still don’t use the same rich, descriptive, engaging vocabulary that a good children’s book or novel does. If the only exposure that your child is getting to the English language is that which they hear orally, then they are missing out. They are missing out on all the words that they could be using instead of said, or big, or happy … you get my point. When was the last time you were in conversation with someone, and you used the word exclaimed, or declared, or stuttered nervously? Your child can either learn those words from the one or two lessons that their poor teacher can squash into the overcrowded curriculum, or they can hear them every night in the midst of a glorious Harry Potter novel or Pamela Allen picture book. I know which one I would choose.
How often have you tried to bring up an issue with your pre-teenage or teenage child, only to be met with a roll of the eyes and a smirk that tells you that clearly, you know nothing.
Next time you want to talk to your child about standing up for their friend that is being bullied, or the inappropriate choices they are making in the school playground, skip the lecture. Find instead, a book that has a storyline that revolves around the issue that your child is struggling with. If reading together is a normal activity in your house, then the conversation that follows this story will be a lot less uncomfortable and a lot more organic than the “Come here, I need to talk to you” scenario that usually happens. Books provoke discussion and can open the door on hard conversations that you may need to have with your tween or teenager.
Give your teenager a choice between a book and an iPad, and 9 times out of 10, I can almost guarantee which way they’ll go. Screens are addictive. They are a necessary and often compulsory part of the normal teenager’s (and now many late primary aged children’s) schooling life and trying to get them to disconnect can be a huge struggle for most parents. A routine of reading together sets aside time for them to switch off. We are creating a generation of easily distracted, instant gratification centred children. Swipe one way and the screen does this, swipe another way and it does something even more exciting (and usually over stimulating). The anticipation of reading a well developed plot is crucial to getting our kids to stop, disconnect and focus. To wait for the end result, instead of expecting it to come at the push of a button.
Kids that love to read are not born, they are made. They learn to love reading, because their parents have instilled in them the enjoyment that comes from a good book. Ask any teacher, of any age group, what they would like you to do to help with your child’s development.
Read to them, read to them, read to them.