Helping children to read

Many children love to read and can't wait to learn more about words so that they can dive into book after book. But many others struggle to like reading and have to be constantly persuaded in that direction. Here are some tips based on observation and experience.

1. It’s not all about words.

Some children express that they are 'bored' by reading. They say that they 'just can't handle' a whole page of text 'staring at them' and feel exasperated and heavy. This isn't so much about the words themselves but about the balance of words and pictures on the page*. Whereas some readers can read page after page and supply pictures from their own imaginations to track along with what they read, others find that difficult and need to be helped with more pictures. Finding books with lots of pictures and fewer words per page can really help with this. The child, feeling less challenged or overwhelmed by the page, can gradually 'ease into' the story. In this way they can experience the pleasure of stories without being put off.

2. Comics aren't bad.

This balance, in reading, between pages of closely typed text and pictures giving some colour, reality or dynamism is important. What you can be dealing with sometimes is that the child finds it hard to have any affinity for page after page of text with nothing to really explain or show what the story is about. Good old-fashioned comic books can help as they are carefully designed to balance text and action. These can be used to introduce students to key stories in a user-friendly way. And there are lots of them, giving plenty of choice.

Part of what is behind the so-called 'addiction' to computers that is moaned about so much today is that children like to have words balanced with action or mass, and to many of them, a page of text alone can be dry and uninteresting at first.

3. Laying in the basics.

There’s even more to it, really. How do we form our own views of what is going on in the world? What lies at the foundation of our imaginative thinking? A child’s early reading is about more than just teaching a child how to read: it’s about laying in the basics of how they will understand things around them. And developing an affinity for certain books enables them to decide early on what it is they, as individuals, like or don’t like in life; reading books is helping them to determine who they are and how they will deal with the world.

4. Present choices.

The key to this is giving the child plenty of choice. Use libraries, exchange books with others, have books lying around. Your child will choose and from there develop a taste and possibly a passion for literature. If you try to enforce what a child should read, then reading as an action quickly becomes associated with enforcement and lack of freedom -not a good start. Even if your child chooses what seems to you to be ‘easy options’, let it happen. Taking pleasure in being able to choose leads to lack of barriers in reading, which then, over time, leads to the child reaching for more.

Applying these tips means that you are taking steps to making reading less of a struggle. For many, it will then become a real pleasure. Then you have succeeded in opening a thousand doors for your child into other worlds, something which will stand them in very good stead throughout life.

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