I know that purveyors of parenting wisdom always say that the hallmark of good parenting is consistency, consistency, consistency, but this week I decided, on a whim, to let my eldest daughter break one of our family rules. That rule is ‘no reading at the table’. Yesterday morning I was eating my porridge when I looked up to see Caillie’s head buried in a book, while her oats sat completely neglected in their bowl. She was tota
lly absorbed in a Billie B. Brown book. For those who aren’t familiar with Billie B. Brown, they’re really short chapter books, designed specifically to help early readers transition into independent reading.
Why did I bend the rules on this occasion?
It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Birdy sit down, uninterrupted and read a book with chapters from cover to cover. When kids first learn to read they’ll often choose picture books they already know, or they’ll read bits then skip ahead, trying to glean tidbits of information about the story from the combination of key words and pictures. But this was the first time I’ve seen Birdy read a longer format book without stopping, without needing help or without skipping ahead to work out what happens. And it just happened to be on the first day of BOOK WEEK!
I know it’s tempting to think that once a child can read to themselves, we can just hand over the reigns and leave them to it, but I think it’s important to continue reading aloud with your child. It’s a lovely treat to be read to. It’s the quality time spent together, the physical closeness, the soothing quality of listening to the familiar comfort of the parent’s voice. But having Mum and Dad continuing to read aloud also enables the child to tackle a wider range of material and read at different levels.
For example, on her own, Birdy can only read picture books or short chapter books, but together we’ve been reading the latest Tania Abbey adventure by Penny Reeve, called More than a Mouse. That book is probably aimed at a 9 or 10 year old. One of the characters in the story is involved in a really serious car accident. If a six year old was reading that content in their own head, it would be way too heavy, but when we read it together and we talk it through, she can handle it.
One of the challenges of this new phase of independent reading is that parents need to be aware of exactly what their kids are reading. Especially once your kids get into upper primary and early high school, there can be some very challenging material in kids’ books. But unlike movies, there’s no rating system to indicate the content. So just as you wouldn’t put on a movie without knowing anything about it, you need to be continuing to read with your child or reading what they’re reading so you’re aware of some of the issues they might be coming across in books. All of us who are parents need to be children’s literature experts as well… as if we don’t have enough pressure on us already!