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!
My husband and I have tried very hard to nurture a love of reading in Birdy and I think it’s safe to say we’ve been successful. It’s possible we may have even overdone it just slightly. Birdy came home incredibly excited after her kindy class had their first official visit to the school library. She wasn’t just looking forward to going to the library, she told us that she had been ‘shivering’ all day because she was ‘just sooo excited’ about borrowing her first book. So we may have a future library monitor in the making.
We haven’t really seen any reading progress in the first few weeks of school, but I think the nervous anticipation is partly about realising that they are learning to read and that soon they will be able to read books by themselves. I’ve actually put my hand up to be one of the parents who help out with reading in class. I’ve only done it once so far but already it’s been a great way to suss out what goes on in the classroom. (I know who all the naughty kids are now and who are the smartypants as well.) But it’s been amazing to see the huge variation in what kindy kids know when they start school. Some of the children know all their letters and what sounds they make, and some also understand the concept of sounding out words, whereas other children still can’t recognise all the letters of the alphabet.
Most of us know that the best thing we can do for our kids is to read to them every day. Generally we do that before bed to help children wind down, but sometimes, if mums and dads are a wee bit tired and want the kids in bed as soon as humanly possible so they can have that glass of red and catch up on the latest episode of Rafters or whatever people watch these days, we might be a tad more inclined to pick the absolute shortest book we can find or, dare I say it, even skip over the story a little? Whole pages have been known to disappear from The Cat in the Hat on a Friday night. I mean seriously, how long is that book?
So if we want to make reading time a fun time, rather than an ‘I’m-so-over-it-I-just-want-you-asleep’ time, we should probably try to read at other times of the day, as well as at bedtime. That way we might be more inclined to talk about the pictures, help them understand the story, do the silly voices and all the other things that make reading time fun. And while small kids are often quite happy to read the same stories again and again, they also get excited about new books. So take the time to go the library once a week or buy a new book to mark a special occasion. When I was a kid, Mum never gave me money for lollies, but when the Ashton Scholastic catalogue came to school, we went nuts! There may not have been money for treats or new clothes, but there was always money and time for books. We could even get out of washing up if we stuck our head in a book, that’s how much importance my Mum placed on reading.
Something I was surprised to learn as a new parent is that children actually need to see you reading too. Just reading aloud to them isn’t enough, they need to see you absorbed in a book or a magazine. It’s like eating. It’s all in the modelling. You can’t offer your child a carrot stick and then sit down and eat a Mars Bar in front of them. You need to show your child that reading is enjoyable and important by making time to sit down and read for pleasure.
On the flip side, if you don’t have time to read a story, words are everywhere so just read whatever is around you. Point out words on traffic signs and bus advertisements and menus. You’ll be sending your child a message that reading is a life skill, not just a form of entertainment.
I’ve heard some parents say their child just isn’t interested in books. I wonder if they just haven’t found the right type of book for that child. Talk to a librarian or their teacher about what might work. Some boys just love really simple books with pictures of trucks and cars and motorbikes and not too many words. Finally, and I realise this might sound a little “out there”, one way to make books more absorbing is to bring the characters to life by talking about them as if they’re real. “Charlie and Lola live in London.” Or “Wendy the Chicken had to go to hospital too.” Books are most compelling when we care about the characters and what happens to them, so talk about them as if they’re your child’s friends. One day they’ll probably say, “Mum, Moonface isn’t real, silly”, but until then… make it work for you.
What are your tips for teaching kids to read and nuturing a love of books? Do you have any fave books your children loved to read again and again? Do you find yourself sometimes rushing through stories at bedtime? Do you have trouble finding time to read for yourself?