1. Make books part of your family life – Always have books around so that you and your children are ready to read whenever there’s a chance.
We have a few low bookshelves dedicated to our kids and they’ve always enjoyed being able to access them freely (even if it sometimes drove us to distraction during the early toddler years!). Though we have books around the house, I must admit that we don’t actually read them very often, especially since having our 3rd child last year, and our three- and five-year-old can see that 90% of our reading is on a screen. So, in order to change that, I’m going to make a concerted effort this week to establish my own reading routine that involves sitting down with a book.
2. Join your local library – Get your child a library card. You’ll find the latest videogames, blu-rays and DVDs, plus tons and tons of fantastic books. Allow them to pick their own books, encouraging their own interests.
To be honest, I don’t know if we have a local library here in Malaysia as I’ve not looked into it (yet?), although there are some books shared via our local community hall. Fortunately, we’ve also been given and found plenty of books over the years but I’m nonetheless looking forward to showing Dino Books to my kids this week, too. And, I’m especially excited by the variety of stories from around the world. We always let our children choose what to read for a bedtime story or any other time so I wonder what they will choose next.
3. Match their interests – Help them find the right book – it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction, poetry, comic books or non-fiction.
On rare occasions when our children haven’t been able to choose, we’ve made suggestions that have almost always been well-received, perhaps because they’re still so young! One thing that has been noticeable, however, is the relative lack of lead characters and role models for girls, although this has been gradually changing over the years. For anyone interested, A Mighty Girl, is a great resource.
4. All reading is good – Don’t discount non-fiction, comics, graphic novels, magazines and leaflets. Reading is reading and it is all good.
We encourage our kids to read anything from signs and car registration plates to whatever they notice and ask us about. That said, I think we could still point out and ask them more, as well as play more reading games to develop their letter recognition and phonics skills. Oxford Owl, for example, offers a host of age appropriate ideas.
5. Get comfortable! – Snuggle up somewhere warm and cosy with your child, either in bed, on a beanbag or on the sofa, or make sure they have somewhere comfy when reading alone.
Happily, this usually seems to be an easy and enjoyable one to achieve, though sometimes us parents have trouble staying awake.
6. Ask questions – To keep them interested in the story, ask your child questions as you read such as, ‘What do you think will happen next?’ or ‘Where did we get to last night? Can you remember what had happened already?’
Usually, I’ll ask them about the pictures, e.g. Who do you think that is? Why is he in trouble? What should he do? At the moment, we finish 99% of the books we read in one go, but when we start reading longer ones, the other questions here will definitely prove useful so it’s good to keep them in the back of one’s mind.
7. Read whenever you get the chance – Bring along a book or magazine for any time your child has to wait, such as at a doctor’s surgery.
As my mum did this with me, I’ve done the same with our kids and keep a book with their medical records, another in the baby bag, and with their spare clothes – all good to go. Now I just need to remember to change them from time to time, too!
8. Read again and again – Encourage your child to re-read favorite books and poems. Re-reading helps to build up fluency and confidence.
Like many if not most kids, ours will ask to read something they like again and again (though less often as they’ve gotten a little older, thankfully). To save myself from getting bored after the nth time, in addition to trying different voices and speeds, it can be fun to add and/or change bits, and see how they react. Asking different questions each time has also been interesting and surprising at times.
9. Bedtime stories – Regularly read with your child or children at bedtime. It’s a great way to end the day and to spend valuable time with your child.
For us, we may be out right up to their bedtime at the weekend, meaning that the kids fall asleep in the car on the way home. During the week, I guess that we have bedtime story on 2 nights a week. This is definitely an area that could benefit from commitment and effort to establish a reading routine, and setting myself a concrete goal of 3-4 out of 5 week nights plus Sunday night is the first step to making that a reality. Dino Books can also offer me a ‘Plan B’ on nights where I’m alone with the kids and our one year-old needs prioritizing.
Incidentally, if you’re looking for extra motivation, research by Professors Kalb and Van Ours in 2013 indicates that the effects of routine parental reading can be quite significant, increasing not only reading but other cognitive skills at least up to 10-11 years old. For example:
“Children four to five years old who are read to three to five times a week have the same reading ability as children six months older (who are read to only twice or less a week). Reading to children six to seven days a week puts them almost a year ahead of those who are not being read to. It was also found that reading to small children has a positive effect on the development of numeracy skills.” The Sydney Morning Herald, March 3rd 2013
The benefits seem to continue for the rest of their lives and, notably, “The results indicate a direct causal effect from reading to children at a young age and their future schooling outcomes regardless of parental income, education level or cultural background” (Kalb and Van Ours, 2013).
10. Rhyme and repetition – Books and poems which include rhyme and repetition are great for encouraging your child or children to join in and remember the words.
Luckily, quite a few of the books we have are written in verse, and they are indeed fun and memorable. Songs and nursery rhymes can also provide excellent opportunities, of course, for rhythm, rhyme and repetition.
Over the past month, whilst I felt that I made some progress in reading with my children, it seems mostly due my unconscious mind seeking to follow up on what we know to be important. However, taking conscious action during the next month should further help. So, what’s helped and helping you to make routine reading a reality?
Philip Shigeo Brown