Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Reading for pleasure - Why is it a concept that's seemingly so difficult to grasp?

Charlotte reads because she loves books and reading. We did this! You can too!
The often thorny subject of children's literacy has cropped up again in a way that seems designed to drive even more parents to despair, completely missing the point of introducing reading for pleasure to your children from an early age. 

Stories describing initiatives to "fine" parents who don't read with their children, or formalising even more tests and hoops for children to jump through seem completely crazy. It's also quite disheartening to see dads once again in the firing line, described as the main culprits when it comes to children's disengagement with reading. 

It's upsetting when you consider that most people complain that time is the factor here. "I don't have time to read to my child" or "I don't have the money to spend on expensive children's books". Some parents work long hours, arrive home after their child has gone to bed, only see them at weekends - there are a huge number of variables to consider in genuine arguments where parents really don't have that time, but consider the following no-brainer advice: 

  • Sneaking in a book at any time really can take up just a matter of a few minutes (even during mealtimes - which for us has worked really well for Charlotte's school readers which are usually fairly dry and boring, but can be read while she scoffs her breakfast). If you consider it worthwhile to spend 10 minutes updating your Facebook or Twitter feeds on your phone in the morning, consider it worth 10 minutes of your time to sit down with your child and rattle through a picture book with them. 
  • Likewise, at bedtime, a story can help relax and settle your child. Sometimes Charlotte is so hyperactive after a long tiring day (particularly on days when she has a fairly long school day with lots of physical activity (PE, Ballet), followed by Rainbows. It's a long haul, and reading can get her ready for snuggling down (again a good choice of books can help here - something relaxing rather than something too crazy and exciting). 
  • It sounds completely crazy but get to know your child, engage with their interests, learn what they're into and then find books that touch on their favourite things. Way too many parents seem to leave their kids to their own devices (quite literally in some cases where kids are dumped in front of the iPad or the games console to keep them quiet) as a convenient way of grabbing back some 'me time'. There are times when you do need to breathe, sure - but if you're ditching your kids so you can veg out in front of the telly or gaze lovingly at your latest status update on whatever your favourite social media flavour is, you're the one missing out and your child definitely will be too.
  • Libraries cost nothing to join and you can often borrow a whole stack of books to share with your little ones. If you don't have a library near you, think about setting up an informal one for friends with kids, and swap books between you. 
  • Charity shops are a fantastic source for second hand children's books. For considerably less than the price of your monthly mobile top-up, you could bag yourself a huge stack of books. 
  • Cut screen time down to a minimum (or like us, ditch it entirely). If your child prefers apps to books, investigate the multitude of brilliant story apps around and see if you can engage them with some of the more 'gamey' ones (Nosy Crow do a fantastic range of traditional fairy tales reworked into brilliant interactive experiences. Your child will get far more out of these than they will from yet another crappy 'Dolly Makeover' freebie app for a reasonable initial cost and no nasty microtransactions once you've bought the app).
  • Above all, children are far more likely to respond to encouragement and positivity surrounding books than negativity. If there's one shared experience that's more likely to create a strong bond between you and your child, it's the shared experience of trawling through a bookshop or looking through the library stacks for fantastic books you haven't read yet. 
Fining parents is not the answer, in fact that's just utter craziness. On the flip side, expecting your child's teacher or your child's school to 'handle all that messy reading business' is also not the answer. Engaging with reading, with your child, and getting them interested is worth any amount of time you can put in and you truly will see the benefit in their education, in their well-being and in their curiosity and creativity too.