10 Tips for Parents to Help their Children to Read
It’s January. It’s cold. It’s that gloomy, post-Christmas, time of the year. The new toys have lost their shine and we’re back to school. Back to the lunchbox routine and the homework chore. And sometimes, that homework includes reading. Luckily, reading is not a chore and nor it will be fore your kids if you help them get the bug.
Reading is a passion and it usually starts early on in life. I have to say that it didn’t start so early for me. I didn’t start to be seriously into books until I was in double digits. We all have that first books, that first story that was so amazing that we couldn’t get enough and kept looking at book after book, hoping we would get the same thrill. Yes, it is like a drug.
We already know how important reading is. I’ve written about it in the past (here and here), and it is a daily concern of mine to ensure that my children read as much as I do.
The thing is, there are things we can do to help them love to read. It’s just a matter of consistency.
1. Find their Unicorn Book
It’s what I call that first, special story. We all seem to have that one book that changed everything. It’s important to find that story that is so strong, so thrilling, so interesting, that it shows you how well and far a book can transport you. Once you find it, there will be no stopping, because you can’t get enough.
And it comes with additional benefits. The time will come when, having read so much, any story, even if it’s not that strong, will be able to transport you. I’ve enjoyed novels that I never thought I’d like, at first, because I have leanrt to immerse myself in the stories.
2. Have a reading routine
This is key when they are younger. I do most of my reading before bed, so it goes without saying that stories are part of our bedtime routine. I am currently reading Anne of Green Gables by Louisa May Alcott. Now, I don’t expect them to sit and listen wide eyed. Well, I did for a while. Eventually, I just let them go about their play while I read, as long as they were quiet, because there was no point reading anything if I had to stop at every sentence to tell them to stop and listen.
I was also pleasantly surprised, because they were actually listening, something they have demonstrated many times by commenting on the text.
3. Have a reading corner
We read in my son’s room. There is an armchair there, where I sit, and they just play on the floor while I read the book. It’s a nice corner, because my son has a loft bed and we’ve put LED lights all around the frame, under the bed, so it’s great light for reading.
But anything can do. The sofa is fine. It’s just a matter of being a space where everybody is comfortable and they are unlikely to run out to another room. No point in doing it in your room if they are going to end up running to theirs so they can play with Legos.
4. Lead by example
Get caught in the act. A lot. The more your kids see you read, the more it will become an activity they will recognize as a daily, normal thing of life. As normal as putting the dishes in the dishwasher or sitting at the dinner table.
5. Buy books. Real books.
Kindle is all well and good, but kids need to see the thing to remember about it. You can have six thousand books on your tablet, but you will not get the urge to read them if you never see them.
Kids being surrounded with books is important, because the more they see them, the more likely they are to pick one up. Books are meant to be read.
6. All kinds of books
Make a vast array of genres and subjects available to them. Kids are able to take a lot in their strides and, if we’re doing our jobs right, are perfectly able to distinguish between good and bad by themselves. Of course, we’re not suggesting you have your seven year old daughter read about Ted Bundy, but children are going to encounter all sorts of situations in life, from the more benign, like children who have parents of the same sex or people from other religions, to the more specific. There was a girl in my school who had burns all over her arms and she was bullied mercilessly. Partly is the nature of children, partly the teachers’ fault for not paying attention, and partly simple ignorance. Children who have suffered accidents, or even abuse, are also part of our world and our children will encounter them, one way or another.
7. Carry books with you everywhere
Whether it is a book for you to read waiting at the doctor’s or books for them to look at in the car, on your way to their grandparents’ house. Books need to be available at all times.
8. Encourage their learning
Especially when doing school reading. Check if they are improving. Have a chat with their teachers to see how else you can help them. Applaud their achievements. It’s a labour of love, though. You’ll need to be patient and not mind repeating the same thing over and over again. Be gentle when correcting them. Don’t nag, sigh, roll your eyes or bribe them. Be supportive.
9. Be enthusiastic
This can take many forms. You can be enthusiastic when praising them on their improvement in their reading, or you can go into big exclamations when picking up a new book to read that night.
If, like me, you’re reading them longer novels, you can have a bit of a celebration when finishing. Make reading something exciting, even if you’re tired and your voice is going.
10. Don’t give up
As I said, it takes that special story. There is no point on stopping. Keep reading to them. Keep telling them stories. You can opt for audio, as well. I used to listen to stories in cassettes when I was a kid. Stories are stories. The important thing is that they hear the words. Even if they are playing when you read, they are still hearing the words.
Paul McCartney told Stephen Fry once that everybody can sing. I definitely can’t, but I will say this for reading: everybody likes to read, they just haven’t found their Unicorn Book.