Recently, I’ve been involved in launching a Reading for Pleasure campaign for the publishers Pearson, the people who create many of the books used in today’s primary classrooms, which has involved a lot of thinking and writing about what makes children fall in love with reading. As a freelancer, this has been paid work but as a mother, it has really highlighted to me how important it is as a parent to ensure our children are turned on to books at an early age.
So that is what this post is about. My role as a parent in helping my kids fall in love with reading from an early age.
Reading for Pleasure is one of the buzz phrases in the new draft primary curriculum and the whole ethos behind it is that if children can fall in love with books and spend their time reading for pleasure rather than being forced to read a durge of an extract in a dull classroom on a Thursday afternoon when all they really want to do is go home and play on their Wii or X-Box, all sorts of good side effects will follow.
Good things like developing an awareness of a wide range of vocabulary, like understanding sentence structure and grammar, like developing better spelling and punctuation (you know, all the stuff we were taught ‘proper’ back in the day). And so, from being a good and enthusiastic reader, comes being a good and enthusiastic writer, inquirer and thinker and so on.
We’re lucky as both of our boys are avid book lovers, but they have both approached learning to read in very different ways.
Louis took to reading at an unbelievable pace. I honestly only had one or two frustratingly s-l-o-w sounding out sessions with him around the age of 5 before something clicked and he just got it. And now, he reads voraciously and definitely for pleasure. He’ll turn his beady eye to all sorts of genres too - chapter books, comics (his all-time favourite is The Phoenix which I can wholeheartedly recommend if you have a 7-year old reader on your hands), non-fiction, even the sometimes-frowned-upon-but-I’m-not-sure-why emails, text messages and online eBooks - it’s all reading right?
Xav is just 5 now and embarking on the road to becoming a confident reader. We moved schools just after he started in Foundation and in his new school he was taught an odd way to sound out letters - his first word to learn by sight was 'write’ (huh?). His teacher didn’t use a synthetic phonics method to teach his class to read and interestingly, his progress at blending phonemes and graphemes has definitely been slower. He’s moving through the Book Bands well now he’s in Year 1, but I can’t help but feel the foundation of his phonic knowledge isn’t as strong as Louis’ was as that age (he learned to read via a systematic synthetic phonics approach and sailed through the pilot of the phonics screening check when he was in Year 1), and so when Xavi comes across tricky words, he doesn’t have those properly-cemented ground rules to fall back on to help him decipher the word.
But yet he still loves spending time with a good book. In fact last week he created his very own book shop in his bedroom (well, a book, toy and light bulb shop apparently). He loves a bedtime story and often curls up next to the bookshelf in his bedroom with his new favourite read.
So were we just lucky that our boys took to reading? Well to a certain extent but we have made a conscious effort to ensure that books are prioritised over television and computer games in our house.
We don’t have a Wii or an X-Box. The boys play with their mates’ computer games when they go to their houses and always come back asking to get one but they have accepted our response that they’re too young at the moment and so our house remains computer game free for now. I would never say never, but I want to make sure that Xavi particularly is hooked into reading before introducing something that will compete so overwhelmingly for his quiet-time attention (and would probably win most days).
We read them both a bedtime story each night. It’s a bit of a rule and one we try to stick to. Sometimes they have a joint story, other times we split them up and each boy chooses a story and a bit of one-to-one time with Mummy or Daddy. I can’t pretend we’re always delighted to do this, especially when they have been complete b*ggers just minutes before, but we both believe it is important and so we stick to it whenever we can.
We make books fun. Next weekend we’re going to the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature to see Julia Donaldson and Andy Stanton of The Gruffalo and Mr Gum fame talk about their latest books. We go to author events at our favourite bookshop and act out our favourite stories with the boys’ teddies (Fantastic Mr Fox works particularly well on our kitchen table stage).
We support their school reading at home. Both of them have reading records and come home with new books to read at home each night or each week. Before the TV goes on or games come out, reading homework has to be done. I won’t lie and say this is always stress-free, but it is important, particularly as they have after school clubs some nights and are shattered so the later we leave it, the more tortuous it becomes.
And we salute the genius of Roger Hargreaves. When Louis was little, my gran bought, one by one, all 49 of the Mr Men stories and we assembled our little library of characterful reads on the shelf above his cot. From the age of about 10 weeks, when I had emerged from the early baby fug and we had begun to establish a bedtime routine, I read a Mr Men story to my little boy every night. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t a clue what was going on, he heard the words, the expression and began to focus on the pictures, then as he grew older, he turned the pages and when older still, he loved to spot the Mr Man we described to him on the back of the book and learned most of the words of most of the books by heart. We did the same with Xavi.
I honestly believe those Mr Men books are the single biggest contributing factor to Louis’s early love of reading, his grasp of sentence structure and his use of exclamation marks and 'for instances’ in his written work. The books are so cleverly and lovingly written and the stories so brilliantly apt for each of the Mr Men - we still read them now and the boys are nearly 8 and 5.
Finally, we (well I) read a lot and make sure the boys see me reading. We have books stacked all over the place and I always have a book on the go or a blog on the iPad to get absorbed into. At this age, the fellas are like little sponges and just like they copy my occasional fruity language *yikes*, they too will copy Mummy’s reading bug.
So there you go - this is how we are approaching reading for pleasure in our house. Consciously, hopefully creatively and definitely enthusiastically.