It was actually Fathers’ Day and we had a wonderful family gathering. Cards, presents and lots of food. I’d been to the charity shop and bought a little ‘something‘ for the kids – as Grandma’s do, and waited for a suitable moment in the proceedings to give them to the grandchildren. The little one had a toy truck, and the older a copy of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Twits’.
The little fellow loved his truck but I was devastated by the reaction of my older chap. Oh, he said his ‘thank you’ because he’s very polite, but I noticed that the very first thing he did was to look at the contents page and say, with what almost seemed like s sigh…
“Seventy six pages.”
It was as if this was going to be a hardship, rather than the pleasure I had anticipated.
At 9, he’s a very good reader. He has a high level of reading skill but absolutely zero pleasure form the experience.
Where did we all go wrong?
Looking back, we must have all ignored the warning signs.
I now recalled that the very first time he read to me, he started the process by asking.
“How many pages do I have to read?”
No pleasure even in the achievement of mastering these early books– at just five years old it was already a chore.
Already we were failing him.
Yes, the school had taught him the skill of interpreting the black marks on the page, but neither school nor home had taught him to love what he discovered between the pages of a book.
Is the school to blame?
You see, with today’s curriculum, children very rarely have a story read to them. Unfortunately many parents feel that once their child starts school and masters the rudiments of the reading process that that’s the end of the story and their responsibility ceases.
How wrong we can be to assume that loving to read is the same as learning a skill. I’ve learned to iron clothes efficiently, but I can hardly say I enjoy it – it doesn’t give me pleasure.
So why can kids learn reading skills – but fail to capture the pleasure of reading? And if they do, how can we recreate it for them.
Here are seven simple suggestions, which in my experience, can get things moving again.
- Show them that you enjoy reading. This is easy if you take some time out to read yourself; it need only be ten minutes – whether it’s a book, magazine, newspaper or even a knitting pattern or catalogue. Show your child that reading is important and pleasurable to you. Share your pleasure with them by pointing out picture, interesting or funny parts of what you’re reading. In other words – share your pleasure.
- Allow time to consolidate. When children are learning to read, many parents become very proud of their child’s developing skill and want to see them move forward as fast as possible. But as with all learning, there must be time to consolidate or practise the skill at a given level. Many parents view this as allowing their child to read book that are too easy for them.
Please don’t fall into that trap.
Children need time to practise and have fun with what they have learned. If we deny them this, the joy will disappear and reading will become a chore – just like ironing! So how can we avoid this pitfall?
- Get out old books. Yes, books that your child read and enjoyed years earlier. Books you think they’ve grown out of. Make it a bit of fun – even a joke.
“Do you remember this one? We used to have to read it over and over again because you loved it so much. Let’s read it again.”
They will jump at the chance.
Because it’s easy and it’s fun and you’re giving them the opportunity to enjoy themselves and rediscover the pleasure in reading.
- Bedtime stories. Kids are never too old for ‘bedtime’ stories. Our family ‘bedtime stories’ were on a Sunday morning when we all piled into bed together and I read to everyone. It was a great time and every one enjoyed it. Sometimes it was a full book, other times it was just a chapter of a longer book, which created a lot of excitement and anticipation.
I think some of the best books for creating fun are the ‘nonsense’ books and rhymes. I’ve never come across kids who didn’t enjoy these and want them repeated or to have a go at reading them themselves.
If you demonstrate that reading IS fun, then your children will follow your lead.
- Talking books or CD’s. An easy way for children to hear an adult reading on the occasions when you can’t do this yourself. There are so many great actors that record children’s stories and your kids can’t fail to become engrossed when they hear them. Books become alive, exciting and all consuming. If you offer a hard copy for the children to follow as they’re listening they will hear the actor’s voice when they next read the book for themselves. It’d amazing how much easier and more interesting this makes the reading process.
- Encourage them to read to younger siblings. Both parties will enjoy this; it will strengthen the bond between siblings and make the older child be more confident and enjoy demonstrating his skills. Again, reading books at the younger child’s level will foster the consolidation process and your child’s enjoyment of being looked up to by the younger ones. And if that’s not a result in itself, this constant consolidation will go a long way to improve spelling skills.
- Reading in the environment. If sitting down with a book has become too stressful, try taking a different direction. Help your child to realise that reading is not just confined to long passages of text in books. Reading skills, confidence and enjoyment can be nurtured by reading simple, short texts in the environment. Here are a simple list of things your child may encounter on a day to day basis, which he can tackle with ease without relating them to what he considers ‘reading’.
- Menus – can he read and choose what he’s like for lunch.
- Instructions for playing a game or a construction model.
- Newspaper/magazine headlines/birthday cards
- Shop notices and names of products
- Bank signs – walk into any bank and your 5 years old will be able to read to you ‘can we help you?’
- Road signs my grandson loves telling me which exit to take at a traffic island.
- Recipes – have a baking session and ask your child to check the recipe and make a list of the ingredients you need to buy. Now go to the supermarket and see if he can find them.
The secret with any learning is to make it fun and specifically related to a child’s desires or interests. If a child enjoys an activity he’ll want to repeat it.
Never forget that you are and always will be your child’s most important teacher.
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