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?
Help 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?