“The more kids read, the better readers they become.” James Patterson
In My English Foundations group, I often ask the children which books they enjoy reading. A few of them immediately volunteer some favourites, some mention they read “a bit”, but can’t tell me which authors or titles they enjoy, and most say “I hate reading. I never read anything.” Perhaps the biggest influence on children’s ability to write and understand English well is in how well they read. Schools can only do so much. It’s parents who have the power to instil a love of reading in their children. So here are a few tips to help your children become avid life-long readers.
1. Make reading fun. I can’t stress this enough. For too many children, reading is a chore imposed by schools, not the joyous activity it should be. You have to find what interests YOUR child. Science fiction? Try Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games series. Romance? Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series. Teenage girlhood issues? Meg Cabot or Cathy Cassidy. Animals? Michael Morpurgo’s books. Music? Roddy Doyle or Nick Hornby. Sport? Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s books. Spy dramas? Anthony Horowitz or Artemis Fowl.
2. Don’t be snobbish about what children read. The Guinness Book of World Records, magazines on music or sport, even comics are all better than not reading. They may even encourage your child to read further. Amazed by the tallest man in the world? Try and find out more information about him online. Does your son love football? Encourage him to read that biography of his favourite sporting hero.
3. Read to your children every day. You can start when they are babies. This will become a favourite time of the day and will reinforce the idea that books are a wondrous source of entertainment. My ten-year old can read very well independently, but she will often ask me to read her a story, purely for enjoyment. Her teenage sister will normally creep into the room too and sigh “Oh, I remember this one. I loved that book!” As soon as your child starts to read, encourage them to read to you (be patient!) or to their teddies. Stress how wonderful it is now that they can access the world of reading themselves.
4. Read yourself. You can’t expect your child to read if you don’t. Find a novel that fascinates you and guffaw out loud, exclaim at the absurdity of the predicament the heroine finds herself in, or tell your child some interesting fact you have picked up. Show them that reading is enjoyable and not a task.
5. Use your local library. Make it a weekly outing and ask your librarian for suggestions on books. We had a wonderful librarian at school who would read a cliff-hanger passage from a few different books and then put them to the side for us to borrow. There was always a scramble for the particular book that had interested us. Some children even start bookclubs at school and swop their favourites.
6. Don’t make your child finish a book. I’ve been an avid reader all my life and my house is full of half-finished books. If the book doesn’t grab me, or bores me halfway through, I’ll put it down. Take out four or five books from the library and get your child to read a chapter of each, then choose which one to finish. That way you’re sure it will be something your child enjoys.
7. Get compilation sets or books of short stories. Sometimes reading a whole novel can seem daunting, but finishing a short story before bedtime is easy to manage. There are also compilations for girls or boys with extracts of different novels. These are great ways of getting your child interested in other books.
8. Set aside a time for reading. Some children like to read before bed. Tell your child they can read in bed for half an hour before turning off the light. Or find a quiet corner where they can read before dinner.
9. Use the internet. Some authors have wonderful sites with riches of extra information about the books, the author and background stories. Perhaps the best is www.pottermore.com (Harry Potter) but all the popular authors have websites where you can find out about upcoming publications, read about the author or even take part in discussions about their work. Other good ones are www.Philip-pullman.com and www.jacquelinewilson.co.uk
10. Try these sites for ideas: www.guysread.com This is a fantastic site to encourage boys to read, suggesting everything from books on robots to how to build stuff and books with “at least one explosion” as well as book ratings from readers of the site. www.readkiddoread.com is James Patterson’s site with suggested books divided into age ranges. www.teenreads.com is another good site with links to Facebook and Twitter as well as detailed reviews.
Get your children to read and you will set them on a lifelong path of enjoyment, make getting good marks in English a doddle, and you’ll never hear the words “I’m bored!” again.