My ten year old spent a lot of the summer trying to wind me up. It is something that ten year old’s are extremely good at. One of his wind up missiles of choice was to taunt me about how much he ‘hated’ reading. He knows how strongly I feel about books and reading, you only have to stroll around our house and see the many, many books that are in every room to see that reading is an important thing in this house. So the ten year old knew that this was great goading material.
He doesn’t hate reading at all.
I tried not to rise to the bait and to tell him calmly and quietly about the huge benefits of reading. I reminded him of some of his favourite books of recent years. Told him how reading would inspire his imagination, open his eyes to new worlds and ideas. How it would help him improve his written work and not just in literacy but also in so many other subjects. I reminded him that without many of the great stories written over the years, many of the films he loves to watch wouldn’t have existed.
Then the teenager got his A Level results and he had achieved an A* in English. The teen is an avid reader and always has been. He went through a wobbly stage around the age of nine and then Harry Potter came to the rescue and he never ever looked back. He has read thousands of books and I have no doubt that this has made a huge contribution to his final exam grade and his own brilliant writing ability.
This gave the ten year old something to think about. I researched some good books for boys of that age and decided that The Hunger Games trilogy might be the set of books that we needed. It was. He has been reading a lot over the last week and is excitedly telling me bits about the story and actually spent one afternoon last week completely engrossed in the story. I am thrilled and I know that his new school also spend a lot of time encouraging their pupils to read, so I hope that he is back on the right track.
Reading is a vital skill and yet I was shocked to read that in the UK 130, 000 children leave primary education each year, not being able to read as well as they should and 40% of those are children from poorer backgrounds. If this continues that will mean that over the next decade over 1.5 million children will be starting secondary school already behind and according to Save the Children, this will have dismal consequences for not only their futures but it will also impact negatively on the UK’s future economy too. In order to improve these awful statistics, Save the Children have launched the Read On Get On campaign, which is a national mission to get all children reading confidently by the time they are 11. They are calling on everyone to help with this campaign and you can sign their petition and see how you can help on their website.
As reading is something I feel so strongly about and to support Save the Children’s worthy campaign, I decided to put together my top ten ideas to encourage children to read;
1.Be a reader
Set the best example and show them that you are a reader. We are the biggest influence in our children’s lives and we are their role models even if we don’t always realise it. It is all to easy not to read as life gets in the way and we are often too busy or turn to our electronic devices far too often. We need to show them how important reading is whether that is through reading books, newspapers, magazines, it doesn’t matter as long as we are reading. If you are not an avid reader, newspapers and magazines can offer great opportunities to have a shared reading experience; talk to them about the stories you are reading, show them the articles and pictures.
2. Have books everywhere
It is important that you have books or other reading materials all around the house; the bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen and yes even the toilet if you like. If children are used to seeing books around the house, they are more likely to pick one up from a young age and it is forming really good habits. We have books all around the house and over the years, I have seen the benefits as the children have often sat and looked at a book quite independently while I have been doing something else. It also gives you the chance to grab a book when they are bored or when you just fancy snuggling up and reading a story together.
3. Reading doesn’t just mean books
I love books and even with the endless possibilities that technology has brought, there is nothing better than curling up with a good book. This isn’t the case for everyone and some children find reading books a daunting thing. I blogged a couple of years ago about my now nine year old son and how he struggled reading books. It wasn’t that he couldn’t read, it was that he didn’t want to. He didn’t enjoy any of the fiction books that were in the reading scheme at his school and it had quite literally put him off reading. I gave this a lot of thought and decided that his love of sport was the way back into reading and we invested in a few books about sport. It was amazing to see how much he loved these books. He particularly loved the ones filled with facts and figures and would spend hours poring over the information and telling us all the interesting bits of information he found.
We also started buying a newspaper from time to time and he would happily sit and read the sport pages. Sometimes with reluctant readers, you need to find material that would appeal to their interests. Luckily, with sport there are lots of things that you can use; books, newspapers, magazines and websites with endless reading opportunities.
Two year on and he is an avid reader again. He still loves his sport books and magazines, but he will loves fiction books and is currently reading Watership Down which was a favourite of mine when I was young. With him, I have found that he likes a range of books and other reading materials to dip in and out of.
4. Form a reading habit
I have this theory that families who read together, read forever.
If you get into reading habit early, it will stick. We read to all of our children when they were babies and bedtime stories were a fixed part of the bedtime routine. It was non-negotiable. As they grown older, that quiet time before bed with their head in a book or a magazine continues to be a routine and even though the older boys read to themselves, L still likes to be read to at bedtime from time to time or he will read to me, which I love.
5. Embrace the love of technology
As much as I hate to admit it, our children are children of a new technological age where screens have become an essential part of life. Whilst we try and limit the time that the boys spend on a screen, there is also a bonus to technology as it can offer a great reading device too. L is sport obsessed and if he has access to a screen, his first port of call is the BBC sport website. At first, I would inwardly groan and sigh, but he is reading. He loves it. He will read all of the latest sporting news, often reading bits out to his brother or me. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it is a positive thing.
There are so many websites for children that offer vast amounts of information and these can come in so many formats such as cartoons or magazine style and it is well worth book-marking a few sites that you think would be good to get your children reading.
Technology really does give us a huge wealth of information to read and although we do have reference books in the house, the boys now see Google as their own personal encyclopaedia and will search for information both for school projects and personal pleasure. Even a lot of the games that they play on involve a lot of reading which is a positive thing.
6. Consider the benefits of an e-reader
When R was going through his negative phase about reading, we bought him a Kindle. It was an expensive present, but it was an end of school/good luck with secondary school present and I hoped that it might help in our quest to keep him reading. It was a good investment. He loves it. It is a device of course, but he loves choosing different books and the fact that he can easily look up the meaning of words as he is reading. It has been really positive. Some libraries now offer a system to borrow books via an e-reader and with many e-readers on the market at lower prices, this is definitely something I would recommend for a pre-teen or teenager to keep them on track with their reading. There is also the option to download an e-reader app onto tablets or phones which might be also be another way to get them reading on their own much loved electronic devices.
7. Make time and space for reading
One of my next projects in the house is to find a space to create a reading nook. When I am whiling away too many hours on Pinterest, I am always fascinated by the reading nooks or corners that people create for their children and I think that it is a wonderful idea. I have plans to find a corner somewhere quiet in the house where I can put a chair or a bean bag and a small bookcase where any of the children can go and sit and read. It doesn’t have to cost anything and there really some lovely ideas to make it appealing for younger children too. If you need some inspiration. check out my Pinterest board as there are some amazing ideas on there.
You also need to give children time to read, not to force them to, but to gently encourage them. Maybe at the weekend, make a regular habit of switching off all devices and having a ‘reading hour’ where everyone has to find something to read, adults included and then take time to talk about what you have read, or read bits to each other. As I said before, bedtime is reading time in our house and I think it is a great habit for children to get into as it helps them unwind at the end of the day. I have forced myself to put down my computer and read again before bed and I am really enjoying.
8. Turn it into a challenge
I haven’t met a child yet who doesn’t love a good challenge. So why not turn reading into a challenge? There are lots of ways of doing this; why not challenge them to read so many books over a period of time, or a series of different types of books to mix things up a bit? Why not offer a small incentive if they read ten books? Maybe a reading chart somewhere to track their progress? My children all did a reading challenge through the local library last summer and it was amazing to see how keen there were to fill up their booklets with stamps, so school holidays are definitely a good time to set reading challenges as not only does it keep them reading and learning, but they are more relaxed and they have more time to pick up book.
9. Visit the library
We are regular visitors to our library. Firstly, libraries have such a great range of children’s books, there is more chance that children will find something new to read as they can sit down and look at the books in a relaxed environment and if they choose something that they don’t like, it is not a problem as you can just take it back. Libraries have such lovely welcoming children areas that it is hard not to enjoy a trip there. My children love chilling out on the bean bags with a pile of books and we usually come away with more books than we can physically carry. Secondly, most libraries offer the most wonderful children’s activities and workshops and as they are often free of charge or very cheap, it is worth going to see what is on offer, particularly for toddlers and pre-schoolers.
Buying books is not cheap and so libraries are a must if you want to encourage your children to read without breaking the bank.
10. Make it fun
The most important thing is that you want your children to have fun. Reading shouldn’t be a chore, it shouldn’t be something that children dread. If you have a child that doesn’t like reading, take time to choose books or reading materials based on their interests. Read to them and with them. I love nothing more than snuggling up with my children and either reading to them or listening to them read. There is nothing better.