A child who loves to read is a child who loves to learn. Here’s how to give your child this lifelong gift.
Reading is one of the greatest contributors to academic success.
As a parent, you probably long to see your child curled up with a book about faraway places and exciting adventures. Reading is pleasurable, but also, unlike other hobbies, it is one of the greatest contributors to academic success. Many studies attest to the different benefits of reading. For example, new research at the 2017 Paediatric Academic Societies Meeting shows that reading books with a baby can boost vocabulary and reading skills four years later. Other studies show how reading develops imagination, empathy and the ability to tell a story.
For some children a love of reading comes naturally, while for others, a little parental encouragement is necessary. Here’s how to encourage reading at every stage of your child’s life.
Start very, very young
Believe it or not, you can start reading to a baby from the day they are born. Sure, they have no idea what you’re saying, but the cadence of your voice is soothing, and hearing the words and seeing the pictures stimulates their brains. Starting young means that you will transition easily into age-appropriate books as your little one grows up.
Make it regular
If you incorporate reading into your daily routine with your baby, they will experience it as a natural part of their lives. It’s a particularly good step in their bedtime routine, as it helps to calm them down – unlike television or other kinds of screens, which stimulates the brain.
Go for fun, silly, interactive!
Of course, babies don’t understand stories, so find books with pictures, sounds or lift-the-flap exercises. Use funny voices – your baby will love it, even if you feel silly. And you’ll probably have to repeat the voices each time you read that bit, because babies love repetition. You’ll be astonished at how young they are when they start to try and join in with the appropriate sounds or actions.
Make your own books
Create a little photograph book of your child’s day, and tell them the story of their own life. They love to be the star of their own story and to recognise everyday objects.
Books, books, everywhere
Stash books everywhere and read everywhere. Car trip? Give your baby a book. Toy basket? Include a book. Picnic at the park? Take along a book. Doctor’s waiting room? Read your baby a book.
Practice reading skills
When your child starts to learn to read, find ways to help them practice their new skills. They might find school reading books a bit boring (the books are intentionally repetitive to help young readers recognise words), so support their learning by giving them other books that they really enjoy. And remember, books aren’t the only way to hone reading skills - think of simple board games that require some reading, or apps that are fun and interactive.
Don’t abandon story time
Once your child is reading confidently alone, don’t abandon your regular story time with them. Being read to is a pleasure, and they love having your undivided attention. You probably read books to your child that are a few steps ahead of their own reading abilities, so your reading time stretches and stimulates them, too.
Be guided by their interests
You might have visions of reading your childhood favourite to your children, but all they want is Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid or even a Minecraft Manual! While it doesn’t hurt to introduce them to new writers or to the classics, the love of reading is the important thing, so let their tastes guide you.
Expand their reading
Let your older children join fan clubs or visit interactive websites that provide them with more information about their favourite authors, characters or literary worlds. Check out Pottermore.com, where Harry Potter’s wizarding world has been given new life online with interviews, further reading, quizzes and behind-the-scenes information for fans.
Visit your local library (or a good book store with a reading hour)
Libraries are wonderful resources for children. They often have a story time, which makes reading a social activity, and librarians are full of knowledge about the right books to read for your child’s age and interests. And there’s something magical about being able to take home any book you like, for free. Some book shops offer reading time and don’t mind if children page through books for sale.
Model a love of reading
When you take a moment of “me time” with your book, your child sees reading as a positive and relaxing aspect of your life. Leave your books lying around so they can see the bright covers and read the blurbs (Kindles unfortunately don’t have the same impact). Tell them what you are reading, even if they are too young to really understand the story. And if your child is willing and able, go together on reading dates to coffee shops or the local park.
By now your child will probably know their own mind, and if they don’t naturally have a love of reading (or if they have too great a love of screens!) you are going to have to get creative. One way of keeping them immersed in the world of stories is to play audiobooks in the car.
Read the book, watch the movie
So many of the greatest children’s books get made into movies. Try to get your teenager to read the book before seeing the movie, and discuss the narrative choices that the scriptwriter and directors have made. Your child will almost always be able to see that the books deliver a richer and more nuanced experience.
Resort to bribery
If all else fails, reward your child for reading. They can watch half an hour of TV or spend half an hour on the iPad after they’ve read a chapter of a book. While you can’t force a love of reading, hopefully the book will grab their attention and they will want to carry on.
No matter what age your child is, and no matter what their interests, start today by giving them access to books, and nurturing their love of reading. It’s the gift that keeps on giving - in pleasure and in academic success.