Pregnancy week by week



10 tips to help you raise a reader

By Felicity February 16, 2012

If you’re keen for your child to do well at school, making sure they become a capable and confident reader is one of the most important things you can do for him.

It’s also one of the easiest and most enjoyable things you can do and, you’ll be pleased to know, one of the cheapest!

So how do you raise a child who reads well and loves to read?

Here are the ten things you need to know.

1. Start early, preferably on the day your baby is born

Learning to read is not something that happens at school. In fact, deciding when your child starts school that you’d like him to become a good reader and to enjoy reading is way too late.

You are your child’s first teacher and his Kindy teacher is going to have an uphill battle teaching your five-year-old to read if you and your partner have not done your bit in the five years before he starts school.

Decide when your baby is born – or even before – that you will do all you can to encourage reading in your home and you’re well on your way to raising a reader.

2. Read aloud to your child every day

Children who have good vocabularies and well-developed language skills when they start school are in the best possible position to take advantage of all the learning opportunities school offers. They usually learn to read quickly and easily which gives them confidence and sets them up for success at school.

Vocabulary and language development begin at birth and reading to your baby or pre-schooler is one of the best ways to stimulate the development process.

It also stimulates the development of phonological awareness, an awareness of the sound structure of language. Phonological awareness is an important and reliable predictor of a child's later reading ability. Children who start school with poorly developed skills in this area struggle to learn to read and often remain behind in all areas of their schooling as they move through school.

Most parents know that reading to children is a good thing to do but what you may not know is how important it is to do it often and from an early age. The evidence is now very clear that to raise a reader we need to read to our babies from the time they’re born and continue to read aloud to them often as they grow up.

How often?

Every single day if you can. At least three short books a day for at least ten minutes a day is a good rule of thumb for babies. As your child gets older, you’ll probably find he wants you to read for longer. This is a sign that you’re well on your way to raising an enthusiastic reader.

3. Make reading fun!

If you’re a parent who loves reading, this one probably won’t be difficult. Most people who love reading are only too thrilled to share their love with their children.

But if you don’t like reading or if you’re trying to read aloud from books you find mind-numbingly boring, your reading aloud sessions are unlikely to be a success. Your little one will pick up on your lack of enthusiasm so you need to do whatever you can to make it fun.

Here are some ideas:

• Don’t just read any old children’s books. Make an effort to find really good books to read together.

• Set aside time to read so you’re not rushed and really focus on your child and on the book you’re sharing.

• Don’t read to quickly. This is a common mistake parents make. Read more slowly than you think you should. This allows your child’s brain time to absorb the story and the rhythm of the language.

• Read with expression. Lose any inhibitions you may have about reading aloud and make the funny voices and the animal noises. Laugh and be silly together. You child will love it!

• Do read your child’s favourite books over and over again. Of course, also read new books but hearing the same stories over and over again has been shown to be important for children’s development. Reading the book the same way every time, pausing at the same places and using the same rhythm and voice, is also important.

• Allow plenty of interaction. Look at the cover and talk about the book before you read. Also, allow your child to interrupt to ask questions and pause occasionally to ask your child questions.

4. Make reading a part of your family’s life

Kids – even very young kids – need to see you reading and discussing what you’ve read so that they grow up with the message that reading’s an important and enjoyable part of life.

It’s especially important for boys to see their fathers reading to counteract the idea that still exists in some places that reading is ‘something girls do.’

5. Seek out great books

This is relatively easy when your child is young but can get harder as he gets older and can read independently.

Taking your child to the library regularly when he or she is a baby is a great start. Get your child his own library card and let him choose his own books as soon as he’s able to.

Older kids and teenagers can find it hard to choose a book when they’re confronted by all the shelves at the library or in a bookshop. Often they’ll give up and tell you they ‘couldn’t find a book to read.’

If this happens, spend some time looking for a book that might appeal to your child. Keep an eye out for book reviews in the newspapers, talk to other parents about the books their children have enjoyed and go online to check out what’s popular with your child’s age group.

6. Create a good reading environment

Making sure your child has a quiet, comfortable place to read is an easy way to encourage him or her to read but it’s something that’s surprisingly easy to overlook.

For babies who can crawl or walk, a basket of books or a low shelf in the living area is all you need. Make sure they can reach the books without help and you might be surprised how often your little one heads for the books during the day.

For older children, a reading light by the bed is important, as is setting a bedtime that includes half an hour to read in bed before ‘lights out’.

If you have the space in a bedroom or playroom, creating a special ‘reading nook’ can be fun. A rug or a carpeted spot with good lighting, somewhere to store the books and either a comfortable sofa or some big, squashy floor cushions can go a long way towards encouraging reading.

7. Make time for reading

As children get older, they often slip into the habit of switching on the TV, computer or X-Box/Playstation when they have free time. These electronic entertainers are great fun but they’re also great time wasters.

As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children manage their time so that they do the things that are important and this includes reading.

How do you do this?

Start with a family discussion about screen time and limits. Once you’ve agreed on a plan – and this is the hard part – you need to monitor it and make sure your kids stick to it.

Some people may think ‘making’ kids read is a bit harsh but if it’s important to you that they read, it’s really no different from ensuring your children brush their teeth or wear their seatbelts in the car. These things are important for their well-being so we make sure they do them until they become a habit.

8. Use Technology

If your older child has access to an electronic reader like an iPad or a Kindle, he or she may be inclined to read more if they can do it on one of these.

As a plus, the books are instantly available and often much cheaper than the hard copy.

Personally, I prefer a proper book with paper pages but our kids live and breathe technology and they're often more open to reading if they can do it on a cool device.

9. Keep Reading Aloud to Older Children

In pre-TV days, families often listened while one member read aloud after dinner. In fact, it's only in fairly recent times that reading aloud has come to be seen as the exclusive preseve of parents and small children.

Yet reading aloud with older children can be a lovely experience and there's no reason why it has to stop once children are reading independently. Of course older children and teens should also read on their own but a regular reading session where you read a chapter of a book together can be something you both look forward to.

The classic are great books to read aloud to older children. Try books like Tolkein's "The Hobbit", any of the Harry Potter books or Ian Serraillier's "The Silver Sword".

10. Continue to Emphasize the Importance of Reading as your children grow up.

Older kids and teenagers need to be kept on track sometimes so, if your child goes off reading for a while, keep an eye out for books that may appeal when you're at the library or bookshop. Often all it takes is a good book to get them back into reading and if it's the first book in a series, so much the better!

So there you have it: 10 tips to help you raise readers at your place.

It takes time and a genuine commitment to making it happen but that’s all it takes.

You don’t have to have a university degree, be a teacher or spend money on early literacy development classes for your pre-schooler, as long as you have fun reading to your child often from the time he’s a baby.

The cuddles you share as you read together are a brilliant bonus!