“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
There are no hard and fast rules to learning to read – each child does it in their own way, at their own pace. Dangers can set in when we listen to uncertainty – they aren’t learning fast enough for their age, they aren’t learning the “proper” rules, they aren’t doing things “in order”, the neighbour’s son can already read War and Peace… These nagging thoughts can undermine the natural process of reading and stifle their curiosity. When you relax, encourage and just enjoy the journey, you will find that children will follow your lead and approach reading with joy.
Here are my top five recommends for a gentle, child-led approach to learning to read.
There are hundreds of books out there and the different formats are designed to be stepping stones as a child progresses. Don’t try to jump them ahead before they are capable – this will create disillusionment in their own ability and overwhelm them with heavy text or subjects they cannot grasp yet. Let them guide the way and set the pace. Take a look at our post here which discusses book formats and can guide you through what each will provide for your developing reader as they grow.
The first joy of books is in the choosing! All those new adventures just waiting to be discovered in the library or bookshop and taken home with you. Children will read more if they have chosen for themselves – as a bookseller I see it every time, the sense of pride that this is their book, chosen for their very own. You can certainly offer options to encourage but don’t be tempted to control the final decision or belittle their choice – this runs the risk of undermining their confidence to be able to make decisions for themselves. Books are a new world for them and even as adults we can make mistakes in our choices – this autonomy can help a child learn what they enjoy and what they could seek out to read next time.
Don’t Shelve the Bedtime Reading
Whilst it is amazing to watch them become independent readers tucked away with a book, oblivious to the world around them, you should never deny yourselves the pleasure of reading together. Sharing stories can be a moment of connection – whether it is a peaceful spell of calm before bedtime, a giggle at something silly or a discussion about the big things in life, these moments are a fantastic way to communicate, strengthen connections and explore topics in a safe environment.
There is No Race to the Finish
The moment reading becomes pressured, a child will usually back away from it – it loses its fun and becomes a chore to complete. The goal is no longer to enjoy the book but to finish it. There should be no time limits to reading, minimum pages set or rules – put yourself in their shoes and that is usually a good indicator of whether it feels right or a control you would not want placed over you. Children learn at different paces, even siblings, and the moment we impose targets we lose sight of what reading is all about. Books take us to other worlds and immerse us in adventures and excitement – if you are clock watching then you cannot truly lose yourself in a story.
Take Reading Further
Stories encourage imaginative play and make-believe – break out the dressing up box, turn the dining table into a pirate ship and fashion an eye patch from paper and string! Children don’t need expensive toys to facilitate this – a stick can become a sword, wand or lightsaber! If your child is feeling arty, grab the paper and pens so they can draw their favourite characters or create their own – the simplest tools can inspire creativity! Reading can also encourage discussion, with conversations that can zigzag from subject to subject and send children off to do their own research and find out fascinating new facts. Books can become fantastic springboards into bigger topics, learning opportunities and creative play.
Books open up the world and whilst we want to foster a love of reading, we cannot force it. If it’s right for that child then it will come to them when they are ready – we are just along for the journey!
How do you encourage your young reader?