What parents need to know about the importance of reading to childrenThis post may contain compensated links. Read my disclaimer here
This is the third post in my series of support and tips for getting children reading with confidence. In Part one I looked at reducing pressure associated with reading for kids. Part two explored ideas to encourage reading and making the most of libraries.
In this post I will be looking at the importance of reading to children – and of reading with – not just to them. I’ll also be expanding on how parents can catch up with our own reading and take reading with us anywhere and everywhere.
Get children reading with confidence – Part 3
The importance of reading to children
“Read to your children,” is one of the pieces of advice which is always given to parents. Reading to babies, toddlers and children from an early age is crucial. However, it is good to remember this can be approached without pressure and without worrying about if we are doing it right.
There are lots of ways to enjoy reading with your children. You can get started by setting aside a special time each day to look forward to reading together. For us, just before bedtime was always an ideal time to relax and do this. This can start with reading aloud to your child.
“From the day our children are born (yes), to the day they tell us to stop, we should read to them. This does many things at the same time.” Michael Rosen, in Good Ideas
Michael Rosen reminds us that reading to children encourages them to develop interests in things going on beyond their immediate experience. It prompts questions and curiosity. So reading to our children is not just about getting them to learn to read, it has value in other ways too.
Learning to read and more
Seeing words on the page and associating them with a story is a starting point for children to learn to read. Children will look at the illustrations to help them understand what is going on and begin to recognise letters and words. Pointing at words as you say them will help children associate each written word with the sounds made to say them. So of course, reading to children will help them learn to read. But learning to read isn’t just about learning letters and the sounds associated with them, it’s about understanding the meaning of the words we read too.
Children will learn to interpret the story and predict what might happen next. They will listen to the tone of your voice as you read, and all this will help them to pick up on what is going on in the story. They will learn a lot about life, the world and how characters interact.
Having children listening to reading, but also being actively involved in reading is great. Let babies and toddler choose the reading books, by pointing or by picking them up. When they are able, they can hold the book while you read and can turn the pages. Encourage children to interrupt the story whenever they have a comment, question or idea or want to talk about the pictures, characters or words. You can ask them questions about what is going on in the book and how they feel about the book. Let the story come to life.
Sometimes your child might not want to get into lots of questions about the reading, and that is ok too. Keep reading and find the style of reading together that works for you.
This doesn’t have to stop when children get old enough to read independently
You don’t have to stop reading to your child when they are able to read for themselves. Read to them for as long as they are happy for you to do it. Reading together helps parents and children to share an interest in stories. You can also ask your child to read out loud to you. Again you are sharing the narrative and can discuss it and you can support them when they come across words they find difficult to pronounce or understand. You can see how they respond to story lines and can discuss the emotional impact of what they are reading.
With older children, if they really don’t want you to read out loud with them anymore you could spend time reading quietly with them. You can each read your own books but then perhaps talk about them together.
My son is ten, and I still read out loud to him, and he reads out loud to me. And often we sit and read different books quietly together. I hope we will be doing this together for a long time!
So what is the key tip that parents really need to know about reading with children?
It is quite simply to enjoy reading in the way that you and your child want to. Do not feel that you have to follow any particular rules or reading strategies for how to read with your children. Find the style of reading together that works for you and your children.
Read yourself – anytime and anywhere
One great way to encourage children to read is for parents to read more ourselves! Picking up a book and taking a break by getting lost in reading can provide a great break from our busy routines too. This really helps to create an atmosphere where reading is valued by our children. Whatever you like to read yourself, having a variety of reading materials around at home helps create an interest in reading for children. It’s a win-win!
I’ve recently realised that this had an effect on my reading when I was a child. My parents have very different reading interests from mine. But because they were reading a lot during my childhood, reading has always been a big part of my life. I’m into fantasy and drama. And while I was getting into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, they had their own reading going on. My Mum reads romance novels and my Dad prefers spy novels and the newspaper. It doesn’t matter what you are reading. If you prefer magazines, newspapers or comics to books that fine too. Just by modeling reading, you are helping your child to value reading. It doesn’t matter what you are reading from classics to graphic novels, it’s all good!
There are a lot of tips out there to help children read. The simple one to get reading more ourselves is often overlooked. The point is made in this article by Annie Ho who is the chair of a non-profit organisation providing reading help in Hong Kong. If we want our children to eat vegetables, the best way is to model this ourselves by eating vegetables. The same goes for reading!
Take books everywhere
For both ourselves and our children, increasing the amount of time available to read is a simple step to have everyone in the family reading more. Try to cultivate an attitude that books can be read almost anywhere. Whether it is waiting for a bus, sitting on a train, in a café, the Dr or dentist waiting room or during quiet moments when visiting friends or family. Taking toys and books whether you are going to the local shop or traveling further afield is a great habit to get into from an early age. Always remind your child to take a book with them, and don’t worry about getting it out.
Let it be one of the first suggestions when children become bored and need something to do. In between bouts of reading also don’t be afraid to let your children get bored! Being bored and occupying themselves with daydreaming, perhaps about a book they have been reading, can be hugely beneficial and can spark creativity and new ideas.
Steps to support children’s reading
To recap, if you are worried about your child’s reading or are looking for tips to get your child reading more, try the following tips:
- reduce pressure over reading – don’t allow stress to dominate reading time
- resist the temptation to compare your child’s “reading level” with others
- surround your child with opportunities to access books
- find books that relate to your child’s interests or hobbies
- make the most of your local library
- allow children to browse and choose their own reading material
- make your own reading suggestions too
- read to and with your children
- give yourself the chance to catch up on your own reading and
- take books wherever you go
The next post of this series, coming soon, will be looking at the benefits of some tests. And no, I don’t mean SATs! In the meantime repeat the above and…
Keep reading and enjoying reading
What are your tips for having fun reading to and with your children? Where are the oddest places you or your children like to read?! Let us know in the comments below.
Get a copy of Michael Rosen’s Good Ideas from Amazon here.
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