Supporting your child in their quest to unravel the mystery of reading has to be one of the most exciting, yet utterly daunting, tasks of parenting. Parents of young children are often bombarded with vast amounts of educational propaganda; most of which serves, not to illuminate, but rather to bewilder and scare. The aim of such literature, it appears, is to make us feel that if our child has not been adequately prepared for the rigours of reading before they enter school (usually by buying a certain product) then they will suffer a life of educational misery and low self esteem; their well prepared peers on the other hand flying through school with complete ease. However, whilst mystifying us with detailed descriptions of phonemes, diphthongs and phonic blends, these carefully marketed tomes often fail to mention one very important fact. Those children most likely to succeed in learning to read are those who first and foremost love books.
Of course this is not to undermine the necessity of learning the technical skills of ‘decoding the text’ (to coin an educational phrase). Just the opposite – it is because these skills can seem so complex that to succeed one must have an overwhelming desire to continue trying even when the going gets tough! Using external rewards such as praise, stickers and even bribery may motivate a child for a while but the persistence necessary for success requires internal motivation. So how do we encourage in our children an insatiable desire to learn to read? The simple answer is curiosity; we want them to need to know what is going to happen next! However, for this to happen they first need to understand that there is an interesting ‘next’ to know! This revelation may be viewed as both a relief and yet another puzzle for parents, for exactly how can we engender in our children this curiosity and love of books?
The answer, first and foremost, has to be to love books ourselves. For some of us this is not a problem but for any parents who are reluctant readers this may be the most frightening of revelations. However, to produce a love of reading in our children we do not have to suddenly start reading ‘War and Peace’. It is enough to show our children that we love reading with them! Quite simply, a few minutes spent in a comfy chair with your child showing them that you love, not only spending time with them but also doing this together with a book, can do wonders to prepare your child for the exciting world of reading; whatever the advertising gurus would have us believe. However, to make this more enjoyable for us adults I have included a few tips:
- Before you commit to buying (or even borrowing) a book, read it first to ensure that you enjoy it. Children have a tendency to want the same story read to them again (and again and again) despite all protestations from adults. If your child ends up loving a story that you despise, having to read it again and again may eventually drive you insane. (Believe me, I know!)
- When the repetition of the same story simply gets too much for you, replace a few of the words with new ones. Ones that change the meaning ‘just a little bit’ are the best. If your child is anything like mine then they will love this new twist, especially as it means that they can legitimately tell you that you are wrong! However, this does mean that you have to pay more attention to the story (rather than drift off and think about other things) but the added enjoyment for both of you is worth it.
- Make a few books of your own on topics that you and your child enjoy. These do not need to be any more than a few photographs / drawings and a few words of text and can easily be made together with your child. Children especially seem to love stories about themselves. This certainly brings stories to life and creates an interest in the characters (though I have discovered that it is not a good idea to suggest that your child’s ‘character’ is anything but perfect in every way!) Of course if you and your child prefer more factual reading then creating books of interesting facts are just as valuable. For children, creating their own books and stories illustrates very clearly that ‘writing’ is simply a standardised code devised to tell other people what you want them to know. It also shows children that the pictures usually support what the writing is trying to say; both important concepts for successful early reading.
- Even if you can’t find the time to make your own books, make sure that the time you do spend reading is devoted to that and only that. It is very difficult to convey the message that reading is valuable and worthwhile when all you are thinking about is your next essential task. As difficult as this may be for busy parents, spending that time with only your child and a book can be extremely rewarding for all of you.
- Finally, don’t worry if your child does not seem to be making the progress in reading that other children are. Each child is an individual and will progress at different rates but all children seem adept at picking up on the worries of their parents. Fretting about a lack of progress compared to their best friend may add to their worries and put them off learning to read. Speak to your child’s teacher if you are concerned but even then, take a step back, relax and continue to enjoy sharing stories with your child. Only in this way will you prove that all the hard work is worth it.
Michelle Brinn is Assistant Head of Year 1 at Bangkok Patana School. She was previously a Lecturer in Early Childhood at the University of Worcester, UK, and has worked as an Early Years Specialist for over fifteen years in various schools and institutions throughout the world.
Editor’s note: This article is sponsored content from Bangkok Patana School Bangkok.