Read to succeed
There are so many opinions online about children and reading. Parents have so many questions, to which there are multiple answers. At what age should children be reading basic level books? At what age should reading be academically taught? I will start off by saying there is no right or wrong answer. There is evidence to say reading should be taught to very young children. Many nurseries begin to teach letter sounds which follows onto reading CVC words. For example, cat, pin, tap, mat. I know, it’s crazy to think your child might have only just learnt to talk and now they are beginning to decode written text. There is also evidence which suggests not to teach children to read until much, much later. As a Waldorf Steiner trained teacher my heart sits slightly closer with the latter. However, as I currently teach in an academic, independent school in London, I am more familiar with the first approach. I have put together some points which outline my personal philosophy on this topic and indicate what you as parents and educators can do to encourage a love for books from a young age.
1. Read to your child from the beginning. I’m suggesting to a baby of just a few days old here. Fine, settle in back home from the hospital. Granted you just birthed a human and reading a baby book probably isn’t high on your priority list, but you get what I mean. Who said new born babies wont gain anything from it? Who said they won’t appreciate it? You could read the paper. Your own novel, your Facebook thread! Just read, and do so out loud. Babies love the sound of their parent’s voice. It makes them feel secure and comforted. Babies are little sponges soaking up information so do choose the content wisely. Not only that, they are adapting to their new environment earth side. Just like when animals adapt, they become one with their environment, learning customs and routines. If adults incorporate reading into everyday life, that becomes habit which the young will pick up.
2. Let the child choose the material just as much as you. Have a bookshelf full of children’s books, adult books and everything in between. Fiction, non-fiction, fairy tales, newspapers, magazines, atlases, dictionaries… need I continue? I in particular love a children’s rhyming book, so my class of 20 are getting pretty good at ending a rhyming string. However, the children have a variety of books available for them to choose from. Maybe Master Four chooses the paper in the morning at breakfast as he is imitating Dad. Fantastic! I hear parents in the library directing their child to the picture books. when all they really want to hold in their hand is what their big sister is reading. Of course little Miss Two cannot read the text and therefore enjoy the story. But is that the point? Books are so much more than reading text. This young child in the library is doing exactly what I mentioned above, imitating and nourishing an understanding for the love and importance of books.
3. Limit technology available for children. When a child says that they are bored, rather give them options which nourish their imagination. Boredom comes from limited imagination. If a child is able to imagine and create, then they can never be bored. Television gives the child the story and the picture. The animation tells the child how to feel. The colours used in the images are already decided and the movement of characters is given to the child. When a child reads, or is read a book, their imagination automatically engages. What is so wonderful about imagination is that everyone’s is different. Books nourish the ability to imagine and create. Just like so many other things, if we don’t use it, we lose it. Which is exactly why children have better use of their imagination than adults. The Harry Potter books for example. We imagined a unique and magical world from descriptive text. I don’t know about you but my magical Harry Potter world was totally different to the films.
4. Teach children about books. When visiting libraries, children gain an understanding of the importance of books. Imagine it from a child’s perspective. A whole building filled with books… “Wow they must be important”. Teach young children to value illustration, and to understand that print carries meaning. Teach children that information can be retrieved from books and how to use books as a tool to do so. Giving credit to the authors and illustrators gives the book ownership and greater meaning, as well as inspiring children to tell stories and create themselves. Again nourishing their imagination.
5. Don’t push a child into reading! I don’t want to come across contradictory as I’m clearly an advocate for books so let me clarify. If your seven-year-old wants to look at the picture and be read to, that is OK. It is just as valuable. It’s not worth the risk of putting a child off reading by forcing it upon them. I’m a big believer that the skill to read will just come when it’s good and ready. That time will come with ease and at pace if the child is immersed in a literacy rich environment, with endless opportunities. Text is simply a code. Children are code breakers. If a child feels empowered when tackling the challenge of reading, they are more likely to pick it up. Remember to always praise their effort as well as their successes.
6. Use books as a tool. As an adult, use books to help children through life’s challenging bumps in the road. Miss 5 refuses to eat peas, read I will not ever never eat a tomato. In the Charlie and Lola series by Lauren Child. Master 7 is frightened of the dark? Read What a bad dream by Mercer Mayer. Older sibling struggling to control anger? Read Wilma Jean the Worry Machine by Julia Cook. We know that traditional tales have underlying messages which teach morals. Modern-day stories are the same. You can almost turn any story into a lesson for a child if you wanted too. However, I’m not suggesting you do. Books are there to be used as a tool to teach a lesson but first and foremost books are an escape from reality.
I had 10 points written down and could definitely write many more on this topic. I’ve merely touched the sides with 6. Just know that reading to a child develops wonderful listening skills and that stories create inquisitive children. Remember to practise what you preach and to be worthy of imitation.