Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Encouraging Your Early Readers

So, your primary schooler is just past the reading basics and has begun to read unaided, albeit with a little bit of help.

Getting a kid to read is much like fishing - you spend a lot of time in those early years casting the hook with loads of big fat, juicy, fun picture-book worms, filling your tackle box with the best possible tools and wading out as deep as you can into the river of imagination, hoping to capture every little swimmer that ebbs forth from your child's mind.

You coerce, you read all of the bedtime stories, you fill their heads with imagination and magic and the life that only reading can give.

But now they have started to learn how to read for themselves - sounding out letters, forming words and making wobbly letters on everything they can get their hands on.  It's a funny time.  A time you have been building up to, but much like teaching a child to bike ride, it's difficult to know when to take those stabilisers off and to let them wobble off into the distance.

Here are ten tips for encouraging and promoting your own little learner.

1.There's no rush

Really, there's not.  Yes, you should be encouraging as much lone reading as you can, but don't be too eager to push them too far yet.  At worst, you stand to alienate an under-confident child at such an early (and it is still very early!) stage and at the best, you stand to lose some very special bonding time over the written word.  Don't be lazy and don't presume that because your child can seemingly read quite well without you that they want to.  Of course they will want to show off and do it some of the time, but remember, they are still learning so much.  Language is very difficult, especially written down, and they can learn so much more just be listening to you shouldering some of the heavy pronunciation, intonation and punctuation.

2. Go Over Old Favourites

We're Going On A Bear Hunt: IT'S A BEAR!!!!

It is a well known fact that children learn via repetition, so use this to your advantage. Part one of anything when learning is to find something that you enjoy, and if your child loves a particular story or book, run with it.  Use voices, read half a page while they read the other half.  They are more likely to garner success with something they really love and the pleasure that this gives them will encourage them to develop their voice and push them into further exploration.

3. Be Silly

Have fun, use voices, challenge them, turn it into a competition.  Above all else, keep it interesting.  Children learn best through play, so maybe use it as more of a game time for them if they seem less interested.  Whatever you do, don't turn reading time into a chore.

4. Any Reading Is Good Reading: You Are Not A Doctor - Do Not Prescribe!

You would not believe the amount of parents I speak to who are so negative about what  their children are reading.  They worry because their son isn't interested in novels, just comic books, or that their daughter doesn't enjoy  the old childhood classics they themselves enjoyed, and instead spen a lot of time reading fluffy Magic Animal stories.

Just STOP!

It DOES NOT MATTER what they are reading, as long as they ARE reading!

It's all very valid for your child, so validate it for them.  Don't turn it into something that they are ashamed to do.

This is where you will lose them.

If your daughter just wants to read comic books all the time , get them a comic book subscription, furnish her interest, take her to comic cons, feed her knowledge and get involved.  If your son loves Magic, Fluffy, Animal stories, get more Fluffy, Magic, Animal stories.  And no, there is no typo here.  Your children do not read with their genitals - do not prescribe to them what they should or should not be reading; the point is THEY ARE READING.  And they will very probably grow out of this reading phase and into a new one, you know, because reading is magic that way - you can read pretty much about anything you want! I myself have gone from Enid Blyton, to Goosebumps, to real-life stories about military life. That's books!

5. Use Your Library

Okay, okay, so I am a bit biased here.  But seriously - you have a free source of unlimited amounts of reading and literature at your disposal - USE IT!

You can 'invest' in easy-readers and learning to read books for your fledgeling reader, but the truth is, after a few weeks they are mastered, read and boring.  These are short stories, here to serve a short, well-meaning purpose and children generally really love them.  But they are short. And the lessons in them are quickly learned.  A lot of main libraries house collections of easy reader books especially for children who are just edging into solo reading and they are fab.  And they are authored by some very popular children's writers.

Francesca Simon, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Michael Morpurgo and even Dr. Seuss books can all be found in the 'easier to read' section, and publishers are very much cashing in on their popularity amongst youngsters and their parents.

So use your library.  This really is the best place to foster a love of reading - plus it adds the best degree ever into the process, which is...'

6. Choice

Let your child choose.  And not just the material.  Let them choose when is best to read.  So, rather than asking them to read a passage at bedtime, when they are tired after a long day of learning, thus putting them off, maybe ask them to sit on your knee just before tea time, or even for a quick five minutes before heading out for an activity.

Don't get down on their choices either.  One of the best reads for Tom was actually a board book for babies that his brother borrowed from the library called 'Toot'., about babies farting.  It's a really funny wee book, filled with illustrations and funny wee phrases about the baby farting in the bath, in his snow suit etc.  And it was really funny to them both. They got a lot of joy out of it, and we had it out for weeks, based on the fact that when Tom read it to Ethan, they both laughed. A lot.  But if I had said to him, when he chose to read it 'Don't read that, it's for babies', we would have lost that whole experience of him enjoying reading to his brother and them both laughing and bonding over it.  Okay, it wasn't the most challenging, but hey, that also happens to be the same week he read his first chapter book on his own, so who's judging?
Same goes if they want to pick a book about Mongolia, or Ants or Sharks that seem well above their age level.  They chose it, and if they liked it enough to even pick it up, I'll bet your bottom dollar that they'll take something from it.

7. Reading Opportunities Are Everywhere

One of the first times that I realised that Thomas could read, was when we were in the car and he was able to read street sign names to me, completely without me even encouraging him.  It was amazing.  He'd sit in the back of the car and sound out words, letter by letter until he got a semblance of a word.  Which, as it happens, is how he now learns phonics at school.

I jumped on this opportunity as soon as I could.  If he was interested enough to do this on our normal day-to-day car journeys, then maybe he'd enjoy doing it for other street signs too?  I got him to look out for and recognise our home-town on street signs and he started pointing it out whenever he saw it.

I used this trick when we went on day trips to the zoo, or found leaflets about his favourite places.  Reading opportunities are everywhere.  Ethan currently loves picking up leaflets about the local aquarium and amusement arcades, but it's only a matter of time before he not only recognises the pictures and the font associated with these brands, but what the letters in the word actually say too.  That's repetition at it's best and it's a great tool at your disposal.

Tom's particular reading habit came from his video games.  He got a Lego Star Wars game on the PS2 and was keen for cheats to 'buy' characters.  He became adept at learning the complicated sounding names of characters and really good at sounding out otherwise impossible phonics which even adults would struggle with!  It was a gift, because he had such an interest in the Star Wars characters, that he would literally pore over anything that had them in it. We were very lucky like that, but you can adapt this to virtually anything - Disney characters, Skylanders, Dinosaurs.  Children get so obsessed about things - use it to your advantage.

8. Give Them Space

Tom loves reading alone sometimes, and during this time it is important to give him time and peace to do it.  His younger brother has always been a bit of a bugger to get to bed, so while he gets pretty much pandered to in his bottom bunk, I try to make sure Tom gets this time to read alone in the top bunk.  This time is for him, and he loves it.  He chooses the material - be it comic, magazine, Lego Character Encyclopaedia, and he gets to read 'in his head' sometimes sounding out the bigger words.  It is impotant for him to have this time without us breathing down his neck about mispronunciation and allowing him to make and (sometimes) correct his own mistakes.  If he can't play with the language without hindrance, he won't get to work out the nuances for himself, which is very important when it comes to reading in front of others or trying new stuff in class.

9.  Use The Internet

Image owned by Usborne.com

There is a wealth of learning tools on the web which seriously support the work that goes on in schools and on the page.  It is amazing.

They tend to be a lot more rote when it comes to learning, but a lot of it supports the curriculum and definitely helps with understanding the ins and outs of structure in our language.

Alphablocks, Teach Your Monster How To Read and Sesame Street's Elmo Reading App are all tools I have used to help various children over the last year or so, and most importantly, besides being a fab learning tool, they are FUN. And modern.  And the kids really engage with them.  They are incredibly developed and unbelievable addictive.  Use them at will!

10. Chill Out!

All kids learn at their own rate.  Don't push too hard or you will have the opposite effect that you wish to have on the young learner.  Like dogs, children sense nervousness. If you are lacking confidence in your child's ability, the will feel that.  Try to relax and enjoy the ride.  Remember how young they really are.  They might have donned a uniform and be waling and talking, but in the grand scheme of things, they are still just babies. Don't over-egg things or you will lose them at this.

Embrace the good as it happens and don't focus on what your child can't  do.  If you build it, it will come. Eventually. Enjoy the time you have left with your early reader.  All too soon they will grow into opinionated and developed readers with attitude - and that's a whole new wonderful journey on it's own!


  1. I am obsessed with this at the moment. My daughter is just starting school and I keep "my child can read already" and "My child could read before she started school" So I have been trying to get my daughter to learn her letters to aid her reading. I think in future I will take the more relaxed approach. What you have suggested in your post makes sense.

  2. Great tips! As a teacher and mom I totally agree. Thanks for linking up with Turn It Up Tuesday!


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