I’ve written a whole book about helping children to read. More than just getting them to read, though, the idea is to help them to enjoy reading. The basics of this article are taken from that book and you may find that they apply more widely than to children alone.
1. Keep Calm
Children move at different paces and shift gears all the time. One child may have a natural proclivity for music for a few weeks and then lose interest; another may avidly grab for books for months, and then take up painting and put them all aside for a while. Think of a child’s interest as a wide-beam spotlight, constantly sweeping across its environment, seeking out new adventures. For a while it might linger on one point of the landscape and then something else will catch its eye. This is how children learn. If your child is ‘falling behind’ with reading, the tendency is to become anxious and to worry that this key barometer of progress and education is indicative of a deeper lack. Calm down: getting worked up about reading in particular tends to alert the child that something is wrong and creates a reaction of one kind or another. Even if you are concerned and there seems to be a problem, displaying anxiety about it to the child is not a workable approach.
This sounds too obvious, but the best way to encourage children to read is to read yourself. This doesn’t mean just books: you can be studying something, browsing items on your phone or laptop, reading packages or letters. Show the child through your own focus that reading is valuable and important; give words weight. Simply by watching you, a child will see that reading is something that needs to be mastered. If you don’t have time to read or can’t see how you could create this impression, then talk up reading and indicate others who benefit from it. Make sure books are highly prized in your home (even if you don’t read them yourself!) and visit libraries and bookshops with your child.
3. Find Good Picture Books
The value of picture books has been highlighted in earlier articles. They provide a ‘way in’ to reading by giving the child lots of visual data to relate to, quite apart from the aesthetics involved. Reading about the planets, for example, is best accompanied by well-drawn pictures of the solar system; reading an adventure set in the Arctic is made more attractive to children by including lots of picture of polar bears and icebergs. Think of picture books as a ‘ramp’ leading into the whole world of reading and fill your house with them if possible.
4. Keep Things Interactive
It would be wrong to expect a child to absorb books without some kind of initial help. Let your child point things out in stories; act out bits if needed; do the funny voices or movements required by stories. Your child will be enthralled by the story and also by the fact that you are investing time and energy into it. The credibility of fiction and its ‘currency value’ in the child’s world will increase enormously. You may find that the child’s own imagination is brought to life and that you are asked to be an audience for created stories inspired by what you have just read - go with the flow! You are building a firm foundation for future success for your child with every minute you spend keeping reading interactive in this way.
5. Practice At An Easy Level
If you’ve been informed that your child is ‘falling behind’ and are worried that you need to take swift action yourself, the wrong thing to do would be to plunge in and try to get the child to operate at the level where it is supposed he or she 'should be'. Labouring with words that the child doesn’t understand in the hope that mere repetition or intensity of study will remedy the matter is misguided. Instead, drop down to the level at which your child feels comfortable and - and this is important - happy. Practice words and reading at that level, keeping a smile on the child’s face. Soon confidence will grow and ability will follow.
By ensuring that children grow up loving reading and reach for books as much as they reach for sweets you are guaranteeing them a lifetime of pleasure and growing knowledge.
Who knows? One day they may become writers.
For more, please see my book How to Get Children to Enjoy Reading More, available here.