It’s not an exaggeration to say that every teacher hopes every child in their care will develop a love of reading. Reading competence is one of the most important factors in academic success and a life which features reading for pleasure is undoubtedly the richer for it.
Yet according to Oxford Learning, despite the fact that how well a young student reads can determine success in school and life, 41% of parents say their children do not enjoy reading. Further, 73% of children say they would read more if they could find books they liked.
There are some obvious tips about encouraging children to build reading skills, for example:
- Reading together
- Making sure suitable books are accessible in the home and at school
- Sounding words out when you see them in the environment
- Talking about stories
- Looking up words together
We can go further, too.
Jake Hope, reading development and children’s book consultant, chairs the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards Working Party. He explained, “Reading is often seen as a chore, but it needs to be engaging and creative. Don’t be prescriptive about what reading is. Reading can be top trump cards, comics, non-fiction or fiction; anything that is led by the interests of the child. Great stories which capture our minds and imaginations will inspire young readers. Standard phonics books don’t tend to do that. We need to develop a love of books and reading first and then explore the mechanics of reading.”
If a child’s only experience of reading comes from phonics schemes that they plough their way through it is likely, according to many experts, that they will be underwhelmed by it. Phonics may well be an important aspect of the task, but it should not stop there. Reading for pleasure is so much more than learning the mechanics of reading.
“One of the great joys of reading is choosing books in public libraries and bookshops,” Hope feels. “We need to give children the choice and keep reading together. Make sure there are books around the home and encourage a reading-rich environment.”
Getting involved in wider reading communities can work wonders for children and young people who are not getting as much enjoyment from reading as they might. Talking about stories with other people as a shared experience can really inspire.
“As well chairing the working party for the awards,” explained Hope, “we also run the shadowing scheme, which gives young people the opportunity to shadow the judging process for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. Shadowers read, discuss and review the books on each shortlist and then they vote for their favourites to win the Shadowers Choice Awards. The shadowing process is supported by promotional and educational materials and anyone can be involved. It is a great way of thinking about books and enjoying them with others. Reading can be fun and sociable.”
Hope’s views on inspiring young people to read are echoed by Alison Brumwell, LRC advisor at Kirklees College and a freelance reader development consultant. She also chairs the Youth Libraries Group which runs the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. For Alison, reading enjoyment does not necessarily come from doing phonics in the classroom. She explained, “No child has ever said to me that they learned to love reading from their experiences in the classroom. The key to developing a love of reading is to do it little and often. Read on a regular basis because that regularity is more important than the volume that is read. Don’t be too prescriptive about it either. You have to start from the level of the reader and build from there.”
Inspiring children is key according to Brumwell. “Children who say they don’t like reading have sometimes been demoralised by their reading experiences or they feel they are not a good enough reader relative to their peers. Or maybe they haven’t found something that grabs them. We need to not view reading in a limited and limiting way. Learning phonics is a building block. It is what you do beyond that that matters.”
Helping children to select books that inspire them is a crucial stage in the making of a reader. Children are capable of self-selecting what they want to read in an appropriate way. The adults around them can help them to think about their choices and to develop critical skills through the conversations we have with them; through really listening and modelling.
Brumwell highlights the impact of the pandemic, however. “This has added a different dimension to the reading landscape. Some children are reading more and some are reading less. Adults have noticed differences too, with may reporting concentration difficulties.”
We still need to keep keeping on with the shaping of young readers. Little and often, with freedom to choose, seems to a brilliant way to start.
Five ways to encourage young readers…
- Talk together - Talk about reading as a group; what books are you reading? What do you love about the book you are reading at the moment? What were your favourite books as a child? Where do you go to get books? Favourite library? Bookshop? Share your love for books and reading, and ask children about what they are reading for pleasure.
- Read together - Read together as a class – you can do this with any age. Talk about and empathise with the characters. Discuss possible endings and draw comparisons with real life and the experiences of those in your class.
- Anytime anyplace anywhere - Encourage a reading habit. Model having a book with you wherever you go. Suggest children and young people grab the minutes in between activities to read. It’s not essential to have large chunks of time to devote to reading – five minutes here and there can work just as well.
- Be open – Be open about what constitutes reading. Do not be limiting – reading does not necessarily have to be works of fiction. Non-fiction, comics and graphic novels, magazine and newspapers in paper form or on e-readers all constitute reading.
- Keep it fun – some children find reading boring or frustrating but it does not have to be that way. Keep it light-hearted and fun as much as possible. Find funny stuff to read – joke books and comedies might attract those who are in a temporary reading slump. The aim is to nurture that love of reading rather than to tick off classics from a list.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.