By Norah Colvin
A love of reading is caught not taught and is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.
Why is reading so important?
We live in a print-rich environment, and are confronted by print in some form at almost every waking moment. It might, therefore, seem unnecessary to state that the ability to read is necessary for full participation in society. Those of us who are readers tend to take the skill for granted and rarely give a thought to those who aren’t.
Consider for a moment the reading you engage in on a daily basis.
You might read:
- product labels for ingredients, nutritional information, and instructions (how long do I heat this in the microwave?)
- the contacts list on your phone
- your appointment schedule in a calendar
- a birthday list
- messages in greeting cards
- transport timetables
- shop signs and information
- information searched on the internet
- maps and directions
The list goes on. I’m sure you could add many other activities for which reading is required. All of these, and I haven’t even mentioned reading for pleasure, getting lost in a book.
While those who are unable to read do survive in our society, navigating our print-rich world can be fraught with difficulty. The last thing any parent or teacher wants is for a child to be a non-reader.
The best way to prepare a child for reading, is to talk with, read to, and laugh and have fun with the child every day.
It may take no more than 10 minutes to read a picture book to a child, and it’s never too early to start. Reading a different book every day from birth would expose a child to over 1000 books before reaching age three! Imagine the words and ideas that would be encountered, both by listening and through discussion. What a wonderful way to begin a child’s education.
While it is great for children to have books of their own to treasure, you don’t have to own every one you read to them. Visit the library regularly. Borrow as many books as you are able, and read, read, read. Read to them in the library, at the park, in the car, in the bath, and in bed. There is nothing like the warm fuzzy feeling of being snuggled up in bed listening to someone you love read a story to you. In doing this you are strengthening the bond with your child and developing a love of learning and reading; irreplaceable treasures of a lifetime.
As well as reading to children, it is important for parents to let children see them reading for real purposes, for information and pleasure, such as those listed above. Encourage children to join in with the reading where possible. Explain what you are reading and why. Point out the special ways in which information is presented; for example, on product labels, recipes, or menus; with different fonts, capital letters, and headings. Encourage children to develop an interest in print, its purposes and meaning. There is more to print than the words alone.
Additionally, it is useful for children to realise that the importance of reading extends beyond the home, to observe people reading in the workplace, and to discuss the need for reading in different roles. Discuss with them the reading you see others engaged in; for example, retail assistants, bus drivers, doctors, librarians.
As children grow it is important to encourage them to think critically about what they read. They need to understand who has written the material, and why. From early on, children can understand that the purpose of advertisements, with their exaggerated claims and emotive language, is to persuade. The message can be particularly effective if children have a different opinion about the product in question.
It is important to realise that everything is written by an author for a particular purpose, and that not everything in print is correct. Critical literacy, the ability to interrogate the veracity of the information presented, its source, and author, is essential for negotiating one’s way through the complexity of information presented, particularly in this current era of fake news.
Young children can understand that even Eric Carle, author of the popular picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar didn’t get everything right in his book. He said that the caterpillar built a cocoon and then emerged as a butterfly. Butterfly caterpillars don’t build cocoons, they form a chrysalis. Sharing this information with them is not meant to spoil their enjoyment of the book, but rather add to their growing knowledge about insects, and the integrity of what they read.
How can parents encourage a love of reading?
I think you probably didn’t need much convincing about the importance of reading. So how do parents encourage a love of reading in their children?
Three little ways:
- Love them.
- Talk with them.
- Read to them.
- Talk with them about things of interest to them
- Read stories, poems, and books of information
- Read stories that are humorous, sad, affirming, or challenging
- Model and discuss positive reading habits
- Demonstrate the importance of reading
- Discuss the importance of not believing everything that is read and of evaluating the source of the information and the intent of the author.
But, most importantly, remember that it should always be fun. When parents share their love for learning and reading with their children, they open their eyes and minds to the wonders of the printed word. Interactions should never be “lessons”, always shared moments to enjoy.
Children who start school with a love of reading and learning have an enormous advantage over those who don’t. It is the love that sustains them when days get tough. Never underestimate the power of a book to change a life.
Michael Rosen Good Ideas: How to be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher This very readable book is packed full of suggestions for encouraging curiosity and learning in children (and you!)
Vivian Kirkfield Show Me How Vivian passion’s for picture books and her understanding of the importance of literacy are obvious in this book that provides great ideas for reading and extending the learning experience associated with many picture books.
Norah Colvin is an Australian educator, passionate about learning and early childhood education especially. She has many years’ experience in a variety of educational roles. She currently blogs about education and learning in general at NorahColvin.com and shares teaching ideas and resources more specific to early education and the first three years of school on her website readilearn.com.au.
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