There is no doubt that reading is important to a child’s development and education. Reading helps them develop their cognition, builds their empathy, and strengthens their imaginations. It can also improve their concentration and social skills.
As a child, I was a Big Reader. I read during recess. I introduced my small group of friends to ‘read-a-thons,’ where we read books as fast as we could. My parents had to take away my books before bed. I don’t know who I would be without reading, but my passion didn’t come from nowhere. In fact, it began before I ever went to school or learned the alphabet.
I have always been interested in children’s literature and how to encourage children to love books, so I spoke to David William, a teacher, father, and his school’s Strategic Lead for the Quality of Education about how we can teach children to love reading. Here are ten tips I learned through our conversation that you can implement into your childrens’ lives today.
- Don’t force it
David emphasized the importance of allowing children to come to reading in their own time, and avoiding the common mistake of making reading a chore. “As parents we want our kids to like what we like, but if you push something on them, they’ll push back. Instead, we buy my son lots of books and leave them around the house, and eventually he comes to them.” Be gentle with your emphasis on reading, especially once your children are old enough to read on their own. You want them to choose to read when they want to, rather than read because you want them to.
- Read to them at a young age
Studies have shown that there are many benefits to reading to babies and toddlers. Reading aloud promotes brain development and imagination and develops their vocabulary. It will make books a natural part of their lives early on, and they’ll associate reading with feeling close to a parent.
- Reading as a love language
Reading together gives both you and your child an activity to look forward to: something special that you do just with them. Most young children and babies love to be read to because it’s soothing to hear a parent’s voice in rhyme or sing-song. Bond over stories you both love, and spend quality time doing something imaginative together.
- Make reading magic
Books and reading spaces can be filled with mystery and intrigue, especially when you sprinkle in a little magic. Consider building a reading alcove, like the one David’s Dad had for him. “My Dad wasn’t an academic man, he was a rugby player and he didn’t finish school, but his Dad was a reader. When I was growing up we had a little alcove filled with my granddad’s books.” You can also make an adventure out of going to the library or independent bookstore, or leave books in secret places around the house for your child to stumble upon.
- Let them choose their own reading material
Many parents make the mistake of choosing books for their children rather than allowing children to choose their own. There are so many different topics and types of books out there and discovery is half the fun. Even the kids who don’t like reading (yet) can find something they’re interested in if they’re exposed to enough options. “We have a lot of charity shops near us with great books in them. I take my kids there to choose what they want to read, and the idea is if the book doesn’t engage them, I’ve only lost fifty pence and I’ve given some money to charity, so everyone wins. That way they can investigate what they like.”
Learn more about the benefits of allowing children to choose their own books.
- All reading materials are beneficial
Comics, graphic novels, humour writing, magazines, and short non-fiction books are sometimes looked down upon by teachers and well-meaning parents. But this kind of literary elitism will push your child away from reading. Maybe your child is not a great lover of fiction, but will tear through a magazine. They will still reap the benefits of reading, and there’s plenty of time for them to be exposed to “the classics” in school. Let them read what they like at home.
- Let them see you reading
Kids naturally want to be like their parents, so if they see your reading they’ll associate it with being grown up. Once they’re old enough to read on their own, you can spend quality time together where you both read your own books.
- Read for social justice
Books are a great way to introduce your children to cultures and communities they might not otherwise have access to. Reading builds empathy, and can be a way into having difficult conversations about race, gender, sexuality and able bodiedness. That’s why it’s important to expose your children to books that represent a diverse range of people, to teach them inclusion and anti-racism at a young age.
Check out this list of anti-racist and inclusive books.
- Sustainable and ethical reading
During our conversation, David pointed out where most people get books these days: the book section of the grocery store, and Amazon. “The same ten authors for kids are being pushed forward [in those places] … If places are pushing the same few authors, how does someone new break through and become known? We’re limiting our diet.” Try buying books from independent bookstores, or visit your local library to get a bigger variety of books. Libraries and bookstores keep authors, editors, and publishers fed.
Read more about why you shouldn’t buy books on Amazon.
- Reading for boys
In our interview, David pointed out the difficulty of finding good reading material for boys. “What if you like reading, but you don’t like reading those (stereotypical) kinds of books? I’m especially concerned for boys because the books for them are often heavily stereotyped and badly written. We need to give kids access and choice.” There is a reading gap between boys and girls, but that doesn’t mean boys can’t or shouldn’t read– they just might need some extra encouragement.
Read more about the primary age gender gap in schools.
Part of what I love about working for Teacherly is that I get to speak to teachers, school leaders, parents and students about education topics such as literacy. If you’re a teacher who wants to upgrade your reading lessons, check out Teacherly’s free lessons and lesson templates to make lesson planning quick and easy. If you’re a homeschooling parent, we are launching homeschooling on our platform soon! We will be providing live lessons for homeschooled students from the core curriculum, as well as audio courses for personal development.
If you want to learn more or have any questions or suggestions please email me at [email protected]