Help your child love reading

posted in: Alison David | 18

Seeing as you’re reading this blog I’m willing to bet that you hope the children in your life will develop a love of reading.

But is hope good enough?

What practical steps can you take to encourage a lifelong passion for books?

indexHelp your Child Love Reading: A Parent’s Guide by Alison David provides interesting, forthright answers to this question. It is written in an accessible, encouraging way, full of clear lists of “Dos and Don’ts” and real-life Q&As from parents looking for reading advice.

David outlines concrete suggestions to help create a reading culture within your family, with targeted strategies for each age range; 4 core chapters focus on the 0-4s, 5-7s, 8-11, and finally 12-16s. The focus is solely on reading for enjoyment and is not about the technicalities of learning to read. And it is about reading for pleasure in a family setting; whilst teachers and librarians may also want to read this book, it is written primarily with the parent in mind.

The most important message for me in David’s book is about a glorious side effect of promoting an enthusiastic reading culture at home; reading acts as family glue, enabling better, deeper and easier relations between parent and child. She rightly quotes from research showing the benefits to the child who loves reading. Not only does that child have an enriched interior world, enlivened imagination, strengthened empathy and better self-understanding, there is also a measurable positive impact on that child’s academic achievement. Yet it is David’s novel focus on family reading as a tool for building strong families that I found most exciting; it’s a message I hadn’t heard loudly before, but one which really resonated with me.

A key plank of David’s approach to helping your child love reading is the restriction of screen time. I am 100% with her on this (for my family it has been a very deliberate decision to have no TV, no smart phone, no Wii or tablet at home), but I do wonder if some families may find the vigour of her arguments unpalatable, or at least (perceived to be) impractical and a challenge to follow through. Again I’m with David who believes parents can and should set firm boundaries (though where these are located will vary from family to family) and I hope parents who read this book will feel empowered to do so. I’d love to hear what you think about screentime and its interaction with reading.

Another area where David argues very clearly for a particular strategy (and one I haven’t seen so enthusiastically promoted in other reading-for-pleasure books) is when it comes to co-reading. Co-reading, ie where parent and child alternate reading aloud, is clearly something David and her son have enjoyed and so it is no surprise she strongly recommends it. I, however, don’t share her position on this.

Co-reading has always been an unpleasant experience for me and my kids (I shall admit that more often than not I have “forgotten” to make M and J do their reading aloud set by school). When I read aloud to my girls I want it to be an unadulterated pleasure for them, and asking them to read a paragraph or a chapter aloud before I continue strikes me as punitary. Of course IF your child wants to read aloud, be happy to listen to them, but I’d debate with David as to how essential it is as a device to foster a love for reading.

[If anyone can point me to research showing reading aloud having a beneficial impact on learning to read and/or becoming an avid reader I’d be most grateful if you would share it. I can see it as a useful tool for monitoring a child’s progress whilst they are learning the mechanics, but my kids are living examples of it not being as necessary as some would have us believe. Could reading aloud regularly to your kids be just as beneficial in helping them learn to read as making them read aloud themselves?]

As a mother to a son David is keen to stress that a love of reading can be fostered equally well in boys as in girls, despite widespread misconceptions to the contrary. I’m delighted to see this tackled head on in her book, but it then comes as a disappointment that gender stereotypes in family reading for pleasure do appear elsewhere: there is a focus on what the mother can/should do in the family.

Whilst Dads/spouses are mentioned on the odd occasion, I would strongly argue that both parents can and should be at the heart of making the family home a hotbed for reading. One particular case in point is when David discusses strategies for reading to siblings of different ages. At no point does she suggest what seems to me the easiest and best solution for everyone involved; that one parent read to one child whilst the other reads to the second child. Why should spouses miss out on the “relationship glue”? If you’re arguing a family should think structurally and boldly about screentime, I think you could also encourage them to think about managing reading time so that the every member of the family can be involved, and not just the mother. Yes one parent or the other may work late, but this book is partly about blue-sky thinking, and about deciding what matters to you as a family – about making the effort to create time for reading… or not.

Help your Child Love Reading is a thought-provoking and supportive read. Whilst it doesn’t include a bibliography or further reading section for adults wanting to read more (there are plenty of interesting, well written books about promoting reading for pleasure out there, although few of them have been written – like this one – specifically for parents in the UK), it does contain a list of children’s books, sorted by age, which David has found very useful in supporting her son develop the reading bug. It’s great to see her include poetry and non-fiction, and to read how passionate she is about reading in all its guises including comics, newspapers and magazines.

I ended David’s book feeling bolstered, hopeful AND also armed with real-life strategies to help my children love reading. Perhaps this book should be given to every set of new parents by their midwife, so more parents can be equally encourage and enthused?

18 Responses

  1. ainslie

    I am fascinated that you haven’t made your kids do the required ‘read aloud’ bit. I have one massively avid reader and we often get your recommended books and she loves to devour them (the Snow Merchant was a real favourite). She is 8 and it is hard to get her head out of a book. However my younger one (7) LOVES to hear my husband and I read but is so reticent to read aloud. She is being challenged at school in this regard and we are being made to feel very bad for also ‘forgetting’ to do her reading from school. But the books are crappy and she is not interested and she feels terrible when she reads out loud. She can however read her own choice of books silently and can then tell us all about them. I am frustrated constantly in how to develop the love of reading for her and not have her fall behind or be chastized at school for not doing how the other kids do. We are also moving to the UK soon and I am worried how she will fit in, or what the expectations will be in UK schools on a grade 3 reading level given her reticence.
    Thanks as ever for your great recommendations – I will read the above book as soon as I can get it! 🙂

  2. Zoe

    Hi Ainslie, First of all so glad to hear the Snow Merchant was a hit – a new edition of it is out this Autumn with illustrations by Chris Riddell. I try to have a “no second copy” rule when it comes to books in our house, but this might be the exception!
    Yes, we didn’t do much forced reading aloud by the child – we did do SOME – but mostly out of my guilt, and the child wanting to do what their teacher told them. As I write in my post, I’d really like to see any research that has been done on this; I’m happy to be corrected and told that it really is an important part of learning to read, but my experience has been that as long as other things are in place (plenty of reading aloud by the parent, plenty of reading silently by the child, plenty of talking between adult and child), it may not be necessary. For me I felt making the child read aloud was a way to turn them OFF reading – it definitely wasn’t pleasurable for them – and I wanted to avoid that. But not everyone’s the same (hurrah!), and for the family of this book it was different.
    Zoe recently posted..Help your child love reading

  3. Sarah Yewman

    That makes for very interesting reading. I have 3 children and whilst trying to encourage them to read out loud the eldest (8 yrs) is very reluctant to do so, but he does enjoy reading and we love our trips to the library. So I’m reluctant to change what appears to be working…

    Love the sound of this book though and must track it down.

  4. Zoe

    Hi Sarah, it’s great to hear your 8 year old loves reading 🙂 And yes, why fix it if it ain’t broke?

    That said, if reading aloud is shown to be an important part of learning to read (or even learning to love reading) then maybe it could be done a different way. Eg send home a book of poems and ask the parents to share with the kids taking turns to read one out loud. Choice, and both doing the activity would make it feel much less unpleasant.

  5. choxbox

    Nice review Zoe!

    Have LOTS to say, but will sound very judgemental! Therefore will try to be short:

    1. I think it varies from child to child. Some kids might benefit from a parent reading aloud to him/her – others are perfectly happy reading it themselves and coming over later to discuss. My older child, who will list books ahead of even oxygen to stay alive, belongs to the latter category.

    2. I hate forced ‘reading aloud’ that schools set. with a passion. I think it kills all joy a child might get out of a book. If the child chooses to read aloud its entirely different but *having* to read is the worst thing you can do. I always ignore absolutely all advice to make the child read x pages aloud every day. Okay I am trying not to sound opinionated!

    3. Co-reading so will not work for us. But as I said to each his/her own, as long as the child thinks books rock 🙂

  6. Zoe

    Hey Choxbox! Wish we could go for coffee to talk about this :)))) Yes, of course you’re right. It does vary from child to child, and if your child does enjoy reading aloud then by all means support that. My younger child will very occasionally ask to read aloud (spontaneously) and then I of course try to be patient and listen to her attentively.
    Zoe recently posted..Help your child love reading

  7. FMY

    Thank you for a very interesting post! My children are younger than yours (5 and almost 3) and so we have not yet had to consider ‘read aloud’. However, they are bilingual and I would be interested in hearing your views/experiences on getting your children to read fluently in the less dominant language.

    I’m also interested in the gender issue. I have both a son and a daughter and for a while the youngest (a boy) was not at all interested in being read to, and I worried that perceived gender divisions were true, even from such an early age. Thankfully, I was proven wrong! However, I am keen to continue good family reading habits and find books or ways that spark both children’s imaginations. I’m aware that at times, this may be with more girl/boy-focused books – and this is where I think it helps that both parents can read. However, there are nights where only one parent is at home to read, and I’d like to learn more about getting the balance right in finding good books that appeal to both children. I should add, I’ve always avoided overtly girly books for my daughter and believe a good story is but a good story – but somehow haven’t worried about ‘boy’ books in the same way for my son.

    Finally, your question of screen time: I have shied away from this too, but recently I’ve allowed my children to watch some television, mainly controlled through youtube. Things we have enjoyed are listening to different adaptations of favourite books, eg Eric Carle’s ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see?’, watching theatre clips of classic stories eg The Tiger that Came to Tea and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (there is also an excellent version of Michael Rosenberg doing his own story). These give a new dimension to the books and are fun to talk about. I also like Michael Inkpen and ‘Kipper the Dog’ is fun and entertaining. The film adaptation of Oliver Jeffers ‘Lost and Found’ is excellent and fascinating to see how they flesh out such a simple, paired back book.

    I do think tv and film is/can be an art form in its own right and shouldn’t be totally ignored. However, I prefer the emphasis on books.

    The website is very helpful.

    • Zoe

      Hi Frances, I have no easy answers with the bilingualism issue. Our eldest spontaneously taught herself to read in Dutch once she was a secure reader in English. She’s always been highly motivated when it comes to the second language as it’s a “special” thing with her Dad (although I understand Dutch fine). Our youngest is now a fluent English reader, but isn’t massively keen on trying to read in Dutch. She loves listening to Dutch, but hasn’t much confidence when it comes to reading it. Personally I don’t think either of us parents are too concerned about it. We do try to make sure there are books around that she could pick up and enjoy (ie have a great story but at the right level for her Dutch decoding abilities), but we don’t (and won’t) tutor her in any sense. Why is it important is it to you that your child can read fluently in their second language? Is it for practical reasons or is it out of parental desire? These are the questions we’ve asked ourselves.

  8. Jenny

    Hello Zoe. I found your article very interesting. I agree that the important thing is to make informed choices that work with your own family’s values and your own children’s needs. These are our experiences:

    I have two children (now 8¾ and 11¾ – those fractions are so important, aren’t they!) We read aloud with them both and they both read to us. The elder was initially reluctant to read her books from school, but discovered the joy of reading to her little brother. As a consequence he was always eager to join in, and later would often read his school reading book to her. Bedtime reading for many years was a snuggly group activity in which whoever was available (often both parents and both children) would get involved. Our children are now beyond their school reading schemes and still choose to read of their own volition. They read differently: 11 ¾ generally has 2 or 3 fiction books on the go at any one time (currently Jacqueline Wilson, Jeff Kinney and Soman Chainani). 8 ¾ prefers non-fiction based on his interests (currently football, animals and Mine Craft), but still has a fiction book that we read together at bedtime.

    When I was first a parent, I was suspicious of all the gadgetry that seems to accompany childhood these days and avoided it as much as possible, opting for books and board games with a little controlled CBeebies. But my opinions have mellowed. These days we allow TV, DVD, Wii, PC, tablet computers and hand held consoles – not all at once, and not all the time. At school their friends are talking about games they have played and programs they have watched and I wanted our children to be able to join in. These things are now a part of the culture of the modern world and I want them to be familiar with the benefits and dangers and be able to make informed choices (within our family’s boundaries and with our guidance) on what is and isn’t a fulfilling and useful way to spend their time and what is and isn’t suitable for their age. We don’t see it as a choice between games/TV/internet and books and I don’t think the children do either, it all overlaps: 8¾ is currently reading The Hobbit because 11¾ was watching it on DVD; Monopoly reappeared over the holidays when we found a Star Wars version in Oxfam; and the family Kindle is used for both Angry Birds and books.

    This doesn’t mean everything is always rosy and harmonious. We do have to set boundaries – and, more importantly, remember to enforce them. It’s so tempting to let things slide for a couple of hours if everybody’s quiet and occupied… But I hope by making both books and gadgets ‘normal’ we don’t make either more or less ‘desirable’ and we open the door to informed and responsible enjoyment of both.

    Thank you for an interesting and thought provoking read.
    Jenny recently posted..A poem for Sports Day

    • Zoe

      Hi Jenny, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. Really interesting to hear how it is with your kids. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with another way to make reading aloud more interesting and more meaningful – for an older sibling to read to a younger sibling. That’s the only time my eldest has voluntarily read aloud – when she wanted to read a story to her sister. Perhaps in schools it could become a regular feature – getting older kids to read to younger ones? I think a sense of pride and connection could be fostered in such circumstances.
      My kids do get plenty of screen time – on a desktop computer and via DVDs and occasionally iPlayer. I agree with you that it isn’t an either/or – but sometimes screens can end up sucking time away from all sorts of other things (not just reading).

  9. Ruth Dryden

    A really interesting discussion. My children are much older (27 and 30!) and there was much less gadgetry around thirty odd years ago. However, we did make a conscious decision to restrict TV and had a time switch it was plugged into so they couldn’t switch it on unless we were around. They soon lost interest in trying ! We watched mainly stuff we had videoed and usually watched with them. In fact they got so used to being able to pause the tv if they needed the loo it was quite a surprise to them to discover that you couldn’t do that with live tv (though of course the technology has caught up now). Whilst most of their contemporaries had tvs in their bedrooms we did not allow this until my eldest was nearly 14. We were aware that she might feel left out and different from her school friends, but after a few weeks she asked us to take it away as it was too distracting! The younger one never asked to try. Both were/are avid readers, though I don’t know what relationship their exposure to screen time has had on this – it may have been in the genes anyway! Certainly, they saw us reading a lot of different things around the house and a visit to the Library was always regarded as a regular treat. My younger one did not learn to read until she was six – rejecting with contempt the ‘word tin’ she was given to bring home from school and neither of them enjoyed the structured readers they were made to go through even after they could read fluently on their own (and neither did we, having to hear them read yet another silver or gold reader- formulaic and boring stories). Every child is different and I think the best way to encourage them is to lead by example!

  10. Zoe

    Hi Ruth – every child IS different, yes, and that’s something I like in this book – the author is keen to point out at each developmental stage that there can be a big variety in reading levels, all of which are in the “normal” range. I know that’s not quite what you were talking about – but the fact that your youngest was a later developer links in with this.
    Zoe recently posted..Help your child love reading

  11. Sam

    Hi Zoe
    Thanks for this thorough and thoughtful review! I must agree with your opinion about reading aloud. If my daughter wants to read aloud I listen, but for me, reading at home at least, is about reading for pleasure. And the books children are often given to practise reading from are often dreadful as they are so focused on the mechanics of reading rather than the pure joy of it. I worked as a volunteer reader with the Oxfordshire Reading Campaign and the volunteer strand was very much based on the idea of reading to the child to help instill a love of books. I worked for ten weeks with a girl who wouldn’t say a peep to me for ages and then, by the end of the time, she asked if she could read to me. That was so encouraging – to feel that she had grown in reading choice and confidence. But I think children should soak it all up. We love audio books in this house and I still love being read to – my husband reads aloud to me every night!
    Sam recently posted..Imaginary friends… who’s had them? What books have them?

  12. Zoe

    Hi Sam, I should make it clear that the reading aloud talked about in this book is for the most part reading aloud of books chosen by the child, and not reading aloud required by school. But for me the reading aloud required by school turns the whole reading aloud experience into an unpleasant one so I could never imagine asking my child to do it “for pleasure”. But it clearly worked for Alison David and her son, and no doubt will for others. Just not us!
    Zoe recently posted..Help your child love reading

  13. Library Mice

    My two are very different when it comes to reading aloud. R read to me tonight, she asked if she could read me a chapter of her book. I’ve not heard O read since infant school. He always hated it, and as soon as I knew he was on the right track, I never pushed it. They are both good readers, so I’d agree that the most important thing is to go with what your child wants.
    Great review, Z.
    Library Mice recently posted..Apple and Rain

  14. Katherine

    Fascinating discussion, I have a slightly different perspective in that I was a child who rarely read aloud. I can remember doing it a bit when I first learned to read (I learned at home not long before I started school) but I never liked it. I would do it at school but I only ever read the books I was interested in at home, and then in my head not aloud, the rest of the time I just got away with reading it first time because I was a good reader. I loved my mum reading to me but our version of shared reading was her reading some of a chapter book at bedtime then leaving me to read a bit more in my head (with the exception of Danny The Champion of the World because she wanted to savour it all with me!). I used to find reading aloud tiring and frustrating because I was a fast reader and I couldn’t say things as quickly as my eyes could see.

    Not reading aloud much has never affected my love of books, and as I grew older and became a librarian who had to do storytime sometimes it became less tiring and more enjoyable. Now i happily spend ages reading aloud to my little boy.

    We restrict screen time for our 2 year old, he watches about 20 minutes of TV every day, and we stick to things we like on CBeebies. He sometimes gets to play on the computer, he likes to type and he likes to look at the websites of favourite books. We enjoy TV, computers and our Wii and want to share it with him as he grows older, there will be time restrictions on them for a long time to come though! He definitely loves books though, and there is way more book (or magazine, he likes to sit and look at interiors magazines!) time than screen time in our house.

    It’s a shame that it sounds like fathers are left out of the books, we both read to Bagl and we take it in turns to do bedtime and naptime so he is used to both of us reading to him a lot. It’s an ideal way to build bonds.
    Katherine recently posted..#10in2014 – August update

  15. choxbox

    Happy to take up the coffee offer. Been a year Zoe, let’s meet up. Please let me know when you are in town next.

  16. Brenda Green

    Hi There

    I have just finished reading to my son a Amazon Kindle book called ‘Four Wheeled Hero’ based around a young boy named Tommy who is wheelchair bound and his best mate Smithy. Every night I would read him one chapter before he went to bed, and he could hardly wait for bedtime to come to hear the next. The book is very funny as well as having a story line that keeps you glued to the book from start to finish. The reason why I have sent this note to you is the fact that I have never seen a book published where a child in a wheelchair is the hero of the day and as such would give that feel good feeling to any child in that situation who reads it, as it did my son. As a mother it was wonderful to see his face as we worked our way through the chapters, watching the enjoyment and excitement he showed as the two boys followed their quest. I have added a couple prints from the book that can explain it better than me

    This is an Amazon Kindle Book and if anyone cannot afford to buy the Kindle Tablet then go onto the Amazon Kindle Book web page where you will find a free kindle app available to download onto PC’s mobile phones etc. This app gives you all of the Kindle Tablet program to allow you the get your copy of Four Wheeled Hero as well as thousands of other titles, some free of charge.

    Best Regards

    Brenda Green

    This exciting adventure story for children will have all lovers of traditional fantasy ‘boy hero’ tales on the edge of their seats until the final word.

    The story has two young teenage heroes, Tommy and Smithy. But this is a children’s fantasy adventure story with a difference because one of the heroes, Tommy, is confined to a wheelchair following a terrible accident.

    The story begins when Tommy is sent a magical stone from his Uncle Bill who is on an expedition in the Brazilian Rain Forest. Bill was given the stone by a village chieftain after he saved his son’s life. He was told that the stone had magical powers so he sent it to Tommy for his stone collection.

    But it turned out to be much more ‘valuable’ than for inclusion in the stone collection for, a couple of days later, Tommy’s father, who is the manager of the local bank, is kidnapped by robbers when they realise that the alarm system has been set and they have to wait until Monday when it would allow the vault to be opened.

    When Tommy and Smithy decide to try to track the robbers down the real power of the magic stone is revealed. This power is that when Tommy thinks of something the stone makes it happen so the robbers are in for some real surprises as Tommy’s wheelchair develops some very unusual and effective weapons and powers. So, with the help of Smithy’s cat, Tiger, who more than lives up to his name, the robbers are taught a lesson they certainly don’t expect.

    This is an exuberant and exciting children’s adventure that will appeal to young and old alike.

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