How do I get my daughter to read more?’ The mother sitting across from me is not the first parent to ask me this question. In fact I would go so far as to say that as a tutor, it is one of the most common questions asked by parents looking to boost their child into the next grade level or help them achieve that extra 10% or get them into the best grammar school.
The reason for this is that the ability to read and comprehend text and critically appraise it, is fundamental to all subjects at any level. It is most critical at an early age where not only does it encompass every aspect of English, including the ability to write comprehensive creative text but it aids in problem solving in maths and in answering high mark questions in science, geography and history. The list goes on.
Because of this the difference between a child in the top end of the class and the middle of the class at an early age can often come down to a maturer reading level. Don’t get me wrong. There are the exceptionally gifted at individual subjects but at a general level, reading is key.
Back to the concerned mother. She sits across from me on a Thursday afternoon after enquiring about tutoring for her child and in my usual probing of her concerns and expectations we get to the crux of it. Her 9 year old daughter does not read, dislikes anything to do with reading in fact and as a result her grades across the board are suffering.
I reassure her that focusing on reading is something that we will work on and that the tutor we provide will focus specifically on improvement to this area. We make arrangements and she leaves but her question stays firmly rooted in my mind.
A few hours later I contact her and do my best to try and alleviate some of her concerns by giving her some tips and tricks to help improve her child’s reading. The main problem is that forcing a child to read is one of the most counterproductive ways to help them move forward. So many parents sit their child down, stuff a book into their hands and say ‘read a chapter before bed’. This is after a whole day of school and a bunch of homework. Done repetitively to a child who dislikes reading will likely get them to a point that they fear it altogether.
So the question isn’t really ‘How do I get my child to read more?’ but rather ‘How do I get my child to love reading?’. This in itself is an infinitely more complex problem. Getting your child to read more just involves force feeding them book after book which they more often then not will not comprehend. Getting them to love reading however, takes time and patience and a few little tips and tricks.
When any of us read we have to visualise the text as if it is a film playing in our heads to understand it. If a child is reading a sentence as individual words and not as a whole they will not build up a picture of the sentence they are reading. Each word therefore becomes and individual chore, akin to if you or I were to read a book in a language we don’t understand. The child is reading each word separately usually due to a poor reading flow and not forming the necessary picture in their head to enjoy the book.
Whilst extra help or tutoring to improve the way they read will have benefit, other things can help too. Instead of telling your child to read whilst you sit down and switch the telly on or go on your phone or iPad, have the whole family read their own books at the same time. This will reduce their distractions and the silence as well as the good example you set will help them to focus more.
Let them read at the correct level for their ability. This is crucial. Whilst it helps your ego to take a picture of your child with their head buried in the complete works of Shakespeare, practically it will do nothing to help them progress. They must read at a level that they can understand even if it means reading books that you may think are too childish for them.
Try and find a book in the beginning of a series. Find a book that has a good number of sequels because if your child bites and gets into it, there’s plenty more to keep them entertained. By the end of the series they just may have become a reader. Good examples for children aged 6-12 are; The Harry Potter series, Anne of Green Gables and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.
Start with a film. This follows on from above. If there’s a book which has been made into a film or tv series let them watch the first one. This can allow them to get familiar with all the characters and storyline. When they want to know what happens next, let them read the second book in the series. Their familiarity with the names and places will help spark their visual memory and hopefully get them hooked.
As I finished up relaying all this to her I sensed an edge of excitement in her voice at the idea of experimenting with the concepts discussed. By changing her perspective from getting her child to read more to getting them to love reading she may just have crossed the mental barrier needed to ensure her child becomes a regular bookworm.