Before you start nodding and agreeing to one of the most pressing, and perhaps most common complaint many parents from all over the world are seeking help with, put yourself in your child’s shoes. Stop and think. When was the last time your child saw you read? (Reading emails on your phone doesn’t count!) And if he has seen you read, was it with pleasure? Or with utter stress?
We completely understand. Working and parenting full-time isn’t easy but take a minute and ponder, when was the last time you brought your child to the library? Or a bookstore? Or more importantly, when was the last time you’ve read to your child? According to Rebekah Gienapp, the barefootmommy blogger, it’s hard to convince a child that reading is enjoyable if they don’t see the adults in their lives do it.
If your answer to any of the above questions is “It’s been awhile” or worse still “Not yet”, Puva Kurusamy of Cognitive Connections, Tueetor’s Premium Partner says, “Don’t wait any longer. Start making plans to read to your reluctant reader, even if it’s for just 10-15 minutes a day.” Then gradually increase that to twenty minutes, half hour and more. After all, listening to stories is equally important as reading one. Jim Trelease’s seminal handbook on reading aloud (“The Read-Aloud Handbook” is now in its 7th edition) affirms that parents have the power to turn reading into a pleasurable activity for their children because it serves to entertain, to bond, to arouse curiosity and to inspire.
More importantly, as Jordan Shapiro, world-renowned thought-leader on global policy, education and game-based learning and parenting points out in his Forbes.com article “Kids don’t read books because Parents don’t read books,” how and if our children learn to read and what they read says a lot more about your (adult) attitudes about reading and books, than it does about our children. In a nutshell, model the behaviours and attitudes you want your children to emulate and inculcate, and you both will be on your way to reclaiming back this “lost” skill. Who knows? You might just rediscover together with your child(ren), a love for literature, or maybe non-fiction. Let’s start by following these 5 main tips. (Tips were curated from PBSparents.com, Scholastic.com and Forbes.com, with the help of Cognitive Connections, and edited by Cecilia Leong.)
1. Zero In On His or Her Interests
Before you do anything, take a step back and consider what is his favorite “thing of the moment”. It could be about dinosaurs. Or planets. Or magic and wizardry. Or rocks. Or snakes. You can choose to read something that interests, excites or intrigues your child. Knowing what interests him can help you pinpoint what types of texts he may enjoy reading. Try to be more expressive when you read the book aloud. When you read fluently and your child comprehends the meaning in the tone and intonation of your reading, he will realize it’s also in the way you express the words, that makes reading an all-encompassing experience. Allow your child to model your fluent, slow and steady reading. And read, with feeling, so that your child sees it’s not just the mere mouthing of the words.
If your child doesn’t have a go-to subject or topic he’s absolutely in love with, find books that connect to the current events in your child’s life and those that you are experiencing as a family. This can help build background knowledge and interest. For example, books on countries that you intend to holiday in or books that have values that you are trying to instill in your child are also good suggestions. You can also consider say books that connect to the seasons, cultures, or special events. All these ideas open up the world of reading to your child, and should be awe-inspiring, one book at a time.
As books use a wider vocabulary than daily conversations, printed material is a rich source of sophisticated words than mere dialogue. And exposing your child to this rich source is as good as receiving a regular school lesson in literary skills. As Ms Kurusamy points out, it is worth to note that the level of vocabulary used in story books for pre-schoolers is approximately the same level used in speech between college-going students. So it doesn’t have to be merely fiction or non-fiction books. Consider trading cards, graphic novels, comic books and the like.
2. Start Small and Pair Books with Activities
According to PBSparents.com, just because your child likes to ride horses doesn’t mean she needs to start hearing you read to her ‘The A-Z History of Horseback Riding’; consider watching a documentary explaining about say, horse racing. Talk about the history behind it, jockeys, the scores, the owners and the trainers. Come the next available reading quality time however, consider reading to your child The Black Stallion by Walter Farley, or National Velvet by Enid Bagnold, and My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara. More importantly, the idea is to keep reading part of the entire experience of parent-child engagement, where you build a bridge of possibilities for your child to discover more of her favorite subject. (Unicorns, My Little Pony…this subject matter offers endless possibilities and books.)
3. Shared Reading
Once you’ve bonded over the process of selecting a subject and a title, keep the sessions fresh by introducing shared reading, especially when you think your child is ready. Reading as a collective experience entail taking turns to say turn pages, read small sections or even chapters, until you and your child are able to graduate to silent reading the same book. It could mean you delegate certain characters of the book as parts where your child takes his turn to read out loud, and you, others. But slowly and surely, you would be able to graduate to shared silent reading as long as you choose books that are rich, engaging and sure to create a good time.
4. Sharing Your Shared Reading – Write/Draw a Book Review or Form an Informal Book Club
The ‘sharing’ in shared reading should also involve talking about or reviewing the book. So if you find your reluctant reader truly responding to the book, be it in a positive or negative light, the idea is for her to express herself. She could talk about which character she likes best or dislikes, and even what part of the book is her favourite or least favourite. The idea is for her to feel safe and comfortable, in a non-critical environment, for her to express herself freely. This could be in the form of a drawn book review or a written one.
And as reluctant readers are often struggling readers in the beginning, be sure to allow fluent reading to be modeled for a longer period, even if she is a tween. The most important thing is to start a conversation that makes her excited about talking about reading. And if you can even start your own book club within the family or with close friends, say with like-age or ability of your child, allow her the space to start reviewing in her own way, with the book you’ve made the star of the Book Club. With just a little work, effort and direction, every little step you take with your child will enable her to feel set up for reading success.
5. Find a Consistent Time For Reading With Your Child Every Day, Sans Devices
Learning to read to your child may be hard and often boring but as you find the time to read aloud to your child, choose an appropriate and regular time to read to him most days or if possible, every day. Select a time and put it on your schedule. Consider the time to be sacred, a time to have peaceful interaction for just the both of you. And turn your smartphone (plus all distracting devices including noisy spouse) off. Be in the moment with your child and know that this time you invest allows your child to forever associate it with as a time she feels safe, warm and cosy being with a caring parent, who has taken the time to cultivate with her, a love for reading. Because on the other hand, If reading is associated with discomfort, failure and stress, it will always be disliked.
At the end of the day, reading should really be for pleasure; think of books like strawberries. You eat them because they’re delicious, forgetting that they are also good for you. So let children discover that when they read the books they enjoy, not the ones you as a parent think are good for them or will improve them. To sum up, I’d like to quote a few choice lines from George Couros’ book “The Innovators’ Mindset”: “If we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart, before we can make a connection to the mind. Spending time developing relationships and building trust is crucial to moving forward…..In a world where digital interaction is the norm, we crave human interaction more than ever.” So interact with your child, connect with their hearts and patiently see change take place, for the better.
If your child needs help with reading, Tueetor’s Premium Partner Cognitive Connections is here to help. Visit them at http://www.cconnect.com.sg/ or https://www.facebook.com/cognitiveconnectionssingapore/. So heed Dr Seuss as he said,“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” “You can find magic wherever you look, sit back and relax, all you need is a book.” And last but certainly not the least, “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” Happy reading everyone!