Helping Kids to Love to Read – Top tips from local author Sarah Dixon
The first book I fell in love with, was Chicken Licken. The Ladybird version. I made my poor Dad read it to me over and over again, until I knew it by heart. I used that as a steppingstone to learning to read myself. As I got older, I discovered the pleasure of escaping into a good book. First it was Narnia, then riding dragons in Pern or slipping back in time to visit a historical novel.
When I became a mother, it was only natural to me to read to my kids. Julia Donaldon’s Gruffalo and the Hairy McLary books became firm favourites. Bedtime was the best part of the day, sending sleeping kids off to dreamland with stories in their brains was a real pleasure.
Then came school and needing to read three times a week. And not just read but read with expression and be able to answer comprehension questions afterwards. As SATS approached we were warned that children needed to be able to read for extended periods by themselves.
Oh, and then there’s screen time. It’s terribly bad for kids, you know! Try and get them to put their tablets down and read a book. Suddenly, reading felt more like a chore than a pleasure. It wasn’t a visit to the sweet shop, it was eating salad and going to the gym.
But there are ways to help ignite a real love of reading in your kids. Here’s a few suggestions for how to do that.
Create a Book Nook
For a long time, one corner of our living room was given over to a pile of cushions and a bed canopy from Ikea. Books that the kids enjoyed were on the windowsill, and they could snuggle down and read to themselves. By making a special area, you are showing that reading is an important and worthwhile activity.
Variety is the Spice of Reading Life
Just like us adults, kids like to read different sorts of books. My son has always enjoyed non-fiction. He wanted to learn about the life cycle of birds or browse the Guinness Book of Records. My daughter loved books about animals, especially cats. They both enjoyed fairy tales, and anything that was a little bit rude (Aliens Love Underpants) when they were younger. One easy way to help them explore different kids of books and find what they love is to go to the library. You can spend some time just looking through the shelves and choosing, and then take home a few different things to try.
The Reading Challenge
Every summer, the library service runs a reading challenge for kids. If they sign up, they get small rewards every time they hit a reading milestone. It’s usually just six books that they have to finish over the course of the summer, but they will need to talk to someone at the library about the book a little bit. The rewards can be enough to get a reluctant reader to give it a try.
Stick with the Bedtime Story
Just because your kids are old enough to read to themselves and they go up to bed without any help, doesn’t mean you should stop the bedtime story. I know that some kids books can be a bit dull for adult readers, but there are some which appeal to all ages. Harry Potter, Jon Mayhew’s Mortlock and my own books have all been well received by adult readers as well as kids.
Don’t Push It
If your child is really reluctant to read, then there might be a really good reason for that. Don’t make a big thing of it, just wait a while and try again. If your child seems really reluctant to read, or is obviously struggling with unfamiliar words then it might be worth talking to their teacher about the possibility of dyslexia. You can get support and guidance if your child does have dyslexic traits from the York & District Dyslexia Association. Even a reluctant reader can still enjoy stories, though. Instead of looking at print books you can borrow the audiobook version from your library or steer your child towards graphic novels rather than pages which are just text.
Visit a Bookshop
Books can be quite expensive these days, so you want to make the right choice. Visiting a bookshop is a great way to see what is popular for kids these days and to view all the covers. Bookshops also smell absolutely great! A whole shop of books is another thing that reinforces the importance of books to children, and many of them have fun play areas or even coffee shops to make it a real occasion.
Read by Example
Lastly, how often do you crack open a book, in front of your kids? Do you keep your reading to just before bedtime, after they’re tucked up and sound asleep? If so, try and make some time to read when your kids are around. We know that kids learn by example, and seeing you enjoying a book is a great lesson.
Above all, don’t worry too much about when your child reads. Don’t compare their reading journey to other children’s and try not to make reading a chore. A love of books is one of the best gifts to give to someone, I’m forever grateful to my Dad for reading Chicken Licken!
Sarah Dixon lives in York with her two children and is the author of the Alfie Slider series of children’s Sci-Fi novels. Aimed at reader’s in the 8-12 age range they have been described as ‘jaw dropping’ and ‘awesomely cool’ by kids and, ‘kind-of compulsive’ and un-put-downable by adults. You can find out more about Sarah and her books at www.alfieslider.co.uk.