Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Picture this. There’s your partner, mesmerised by a Facebook video of a dog skateboarding across the Millennium Bridge; your kids are slowly destroying their clothes, bedrooms and each other whilst demanding to be fed every five minutes; and you are just considering the best way to broach the subject of how the hamster escaped into the neighbour’s garden and got eaten by their cat, when your foot lands straight on the spiky Lego trail lovingly left to catch you unawares. Family life can be hectic, unpredictable and exhausting. Parenting involves either fire fighting disasters or attempting to pre-empt any possible disasters. Surely the last thing on our minds is to teach our children to read. After all that’s why we send our children to school isn’t it?
Supporting our children to read and teaching our children how to read are two very different things and naturally many of us don’t know where to start. Why should we? Obviously I know I learnt to read at school but I can’t remember how I learnt. I know I wasn’t taught with the phonetic approach currently being used but the steps which led me to proficient reader status remain a complete mystery.
I certainly don’t want my children’s home life to be like their school life – marching to conformity and regulations. To me our supportive role as parents is not to enforce a string of strict steps but to ensure story time remains something to look forward to in the hope that the ability to read does indeed develop as if by magic!
Let’s face it, most of us are tired by the end of a full day and are trying to make bedtime as quick and pain free as possible rather than drawing it out with 101 questions about a book on tractors. So here are some tips which I’ve found help to alleviate the common frustrations many parents face at reading time.
How often do I have to read to them?
10 minutes a day is the recommendation, perfect for their short attention span. That’s all it takes but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach this target. If you want to encourage your child to read try not to think about HAVING to read to them, focus on when you WANT to read to them. So if sometimes you don’t have the patience or the kids are too grumpy and tired, it really is better to miss it than enforce a reading session that neither of you want. Being in the right frame of mind for reading is far more important and productive.
Do I need to talk about the book as well as read it?
Remember you’re not setting up a lesson for your child; firing hundreds of questions at them will become boring for both of you not to mention the time it would take. One or two simple questions every week to get them thinking about the character or plot is an easy way to help them start to develop their comprehension skills. Some books even suggest questions at the end of the story. If you’re short on time read half of the story so you have time to chat about the questions instead. Anything which makes reading time different maintains and encourages their interest.
I don’t have the space for hundreds of children’s books.
Not everyone has room for a library of books but as long as you rotate the books to maintain interest it’s not necessary to have a full shelf. Swapping them out regularly for library books or second hand books is the best way. Just make sure your children can easily reach them so they can have a look whenever they feel like it.
I don’t read. I’ve never liked reading so why should I make my child read?
If your child shows an interest in something you loathe, mustering up any enthusiasm is always an uphill struggle or worse still if they are not interested either, why bother? No, life doesn’t end if you can’t read but it does open up more opportunities, make life more interesting and in some cases easier. By helping children to read we are giving them the choice as to whether they want to read (or not). If you can’t or don’t want to read to them, playing an audio version instead is also beneficial.
My child is a slow reader; it’s frustrating and painful to read with them.
Again this is a case of playing it by ear. Don’t push your child. Sound out the words with them. Start by reading one sentence a night only and then work at their pace. A realistic target means less frustration for both of you. They will want to read more when they are ready and naturally become faster with practise.
My baby keeps ruining the books I buy.
I’ve done it, probably a thousand other first time parents have done it. Yes I bought lovely flap books and popup books for my eldest when he was a baby. He loved grabbing things; it seemed obvious he would love them. Well he did, but me, not so much when he started ripping and tearing at the beautifully crafted illustrations which were rapidly developing soggy corners. Babies instinctively want to feel things, put them in their mouths, pull them close; it’s their way of learning about their surroundings. Needless to say number two son didn’t get the pleasure of these types of books until much later! Touchy feely, squeaky board books are much better at this stage and try not to be too precious about them, let your child explore them in their own way.
My child keeps choosing the same book, it’s driving me insane!
This one takes patience! Eventually they too get bored of the same book over and over – honestly they do but in the meantime vary it a bit to keep your sanity by trying to get them to play the main character whilst you take the other roles for example or make up simple fun quiz questions for them to answer.
My child isn’t reading they are guessing some of the words.
It simply doesn’t matter. Often your child will be guessing the word from the context of the sentence and pictures and will come up with one of a similar meaning so praise them for the right understanding then sound out the word that was written with them.
I’m convinced my child is reciting the book from memory.
This may be so but it will also usually be because it is one of their favourite books so let them enjoy the book. Knowing what it says, even if merely from memory, is a great confidence builder.
My child keeps interrupting the story with questions.
I have to admit this is a bug bear of mine. I like to read a story from start to finish with no interruptions… and then I had children of my own and inevitably had to compromise on this one. Unrelated questions about the schools new pet stick insect or the latest Ben 10 programme can wait until the end of the story. Questions about the book, we stop and talk about. It works for us!
I work long hours and can’t get home for bedtime reading.
Reading time can be at anytime. Find what works best around your routine whether that’s first thing in the morning, straight after school or at bedtime but try to make sure it’s a time when you are not rushed and can give your full attention to allow for a little stumbling over words and all those why questions.
What have you found difficult about reading time?