Get Your Child To Read For Pleasure
Success! This comes from my own experience and thankfully, in my case at least, ending in success.
So how do you get and keep your children interested in picking up and reading books?
Well, you might be lucky. Your children may very well have a natural affinity to want to read books. We have an older child who fits that bill. A prolific reader. But I still think that was down to us as parents leading by example in the early days.
However, perhaps we were a little more lax with our second son, as he was latterly (entering his teenager years) not as keen to pick up a book for pleasure and become engrossed enough to see a book through to the last page.
The good news. I can now thankfully pass on that we have now turned that around, and our second child is also happier now to also read for pleasure.
So what was different.
Looking back now at what we did with our first child and what we didn't do with our second child, until much later, could answer that question.
Firstly, I remember we were very keen with our first child to introduce books from a very early age. Whether it was simply reading to him or just by letting him play with books as a toddler, simply feeling the textures of books and flipping through the pages. Books were always around the house. Baby books were in abundance. Some were simple card books, some were interactive books that made noises, some were just the traditional books we had as children and were happy to have read to us. Either way, playing and holding different books and having a parent read and being seen to read books was the norm. Our first son grow up encouraged and comfortable to be integrated in a world of books and reading. He didn't know any different. In addition, we as parents were very conscious of the ratio of play time and family time and TV time. It was always paramount to make sure the TV did not dominate our sons activities. Yes, he saw TV and liked TV, but it was not used as a parenting substitute. Just taking time to read to and read with a young child, and making the experience pleasurable and fun, may be enough to ensure reading for pleasure features in their future.
For our second son... well... hands up... we may have been a little lazier. We still made time and took the time and did all the right parenting stuff, but perhaps not to the same extent as the new-parenting of a first child. As a result we soon had a teenager who was capable of reading for pleasure, but was finding it more of a chore. It wasn't second nature for him.
Now plenty of so-called experts will tell us that reading for pleasure is a very important aspect of adult life. It ensures cerebral stimulation and leads to a better vocabulary and awareness. It leads to more neuron connections in the brain and without a doubt makes it easier to study and research materials for school and beyond. They need to be comfortable around such reading material. It's that critical.
Does Your Child Read For Pleasure?
So... back to basic. We re-invented the wheel.
Knowing what we did about our first son's experience, we looked back at ourselves and started from scratch. Without declaring such a programme, both my husband and myself made an effort to first be seen to be reading books in front of the children. It's what adults do. We then started making our book reading a topic of conversation during family times. We made the topic interesting and exciting to listen to. We left interesting looking books lying around the house. Both reference and paperbacks. We pulled dormant books from bookshelves and made them look as if they were in constant use. Having set the scene of a book loving family, we then set about integrating our second sons current interests into our conversations with a view to doing some research into the subjects. For example: our second son was, like many, happy to sit with a Game Console and play all sorts of mind numbing games. (Don't get me wrong, I do think there is a place for the hand-eye-coordination benefits of some Gaming console time). So we took his like for a James Bond game and started talking about the films of James Bond and the wider context of the genre. We collectively went onto the internet and looked up James Bond information and eventually the James Bond books available from the web. At this point we realised he had seen through our plan. He was losing interest. James Bond books could be a bit thick and textually bland. It was easier to watch the DVD.
So we let it ride for a while and certainly did not flog the horse. Keeping the family book theme going in the background, we dipped back into his interests and would spend some time looking at the internet with him at the amount of material available on these subjects. Slowly but surely we found him dipping back into these web pages on his own. He would come and tell us what he found; and this is the important point; we would stop and listen to what he was saying about it and very much praise him for sharing his findings. Positive feedback and praise was the key. In our case, we then found some spy style books in the James Bond genre that was written and available for younger children (Charlie Higson books were excellent for this). We bought the first book in the series and left it lying around. We continued our family time looking at these interests on the web together and made that a normal activity. It was actually fun for all of us, as we were spending quality time together. Then, to our delight, as it was not an ordered chore, he picked up the book and started reading it. We said nothing. Just smiled and kept the atmosphere pleasant. He would pick it up more often and eventually it was clear that he was keen to get back to finishing the book. After a few days, we asked him at dinner time if he was enjoying 'that book' and would take just a few minutes asking him how it was going. We made no criticism or negativity about how he described it, but just listened. This made him feel as if this was what we did. It was normal. He now had an input into family discussions. He now had something different to talk about. We listened and encouraged him to talk, And so it went on. We got him the second book in the series and then the third.
We actively tried this process again with a different favourite subject of his. Cycling.... not only was he looking at cycling webs sites to begin with, but when he 'mysteriously' came across a hardcopy of the highway code with a section on bike maintenance on the table, he picked it up and was seen flicking through it. He was hooked. It didn't matter if it was a cycling magazine or even a comic book, he was picking up and reading for pleasure (and unwittingly expanding his knowledge every time).
And so on... Repeating this method over other interest subjects also proved to work and hold interest. It was the norm.
We ultimately found that by doing nothing, nothing was going to change. You have to be 'a parent' and take the initiative to change for the better.
Take time to sit together without distractions.
Great books to hook teenagers into reading:
What Should Parents Do Now?
So, as parents:
We set the scene. (the message was - "we read books in this family - it is normal")
We encouraged interaction with subjects of interest.
We made material available without it being obvious. Including the use of the internet.
We took time to sit together without distractions. (Even just a few minutes to start with was all it took sometimes)
We took time to talk together without distractions, criticism or dominating the conversation. Listen!
We found interesting related paperbacks and made them available without making it obvious. We left paperbacks in the car.
We encouraged feedback and open discussion. (It's not that important to criticise at all).
We never made reading a chore.
Of course, we were fortunate to have access to the web and to many bookstores and libraries. But even a short trip to your local book store or library could end up being the start of introducing the 'book atmosphere'. Don't make it a chore though. And keep your manner happy and encouraging.
So through a little bit of quality family effort, we were able to ignite an encouraging atmosphere to make books an interesting asset. Our second son is still not as a prolific reader as our first son, but it's all going in the right direction. We are all engaged in discussions, we can all share the books for a pool of opinions.
In addition, we have noticed his speed of reading is increasing, his use of varied vocabulary is increasing, his written sentence structure is improving, his ability to research and study using the web is quicker and becoming well practiced. (He knows looking at a hardback reference book is sometime quicker than the web trawl - simple proper use of an index was a great leveller).
Stick to some simple basic family values. Take time for your children and 'be a parent'
In our case, this has been a success.
A great start. Books by Charlie Higson:
Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.
I'm sure we will all find your comments helpful.