Insights – a lifelong love affair with reading
Holding pride of place in my office is an artwork that a kindergarten class produced for me a few years ago after I read the children one of my favourite childhood picture books. It is a collage of Baby Elephant who is the protagonist of the book, “The Elephant with Rosy Coloured Ears”. It tells the story of how Baby stands up to bullying and manages to teach the other jungle animals that the beauty of our world lies in our diversity. While I could focus on unpacking the moral lessons embedded in the story, the reason I enjoy seeing it in my office so much is that it reminds me of how much I loved being read to as a child, and then, in turn, how much I loved reading to my children.
Author Paul Jennings describes reading to a child as an emotional act which ascribes a lasting positive emotional connection between the word “book” and the warm feelings of love expressed in this special shared time. He writes that when done well, this act can lead to a lifelong love affair with reading.
This lifelong affair has enormous benefits. Ask any English teacher to nominate the regular readers in their class and they will be able to do so readily. This is because when a child reads regularly they expand their vocabulary and develop greater sophistication of language, they feed their imagination and automatically adopt empathetic perspectives. Books tend to make us more interested in the world around us and hence more interesting ourselves.
Another famous author, George R.R. Martin, describes the value reading can offer in terms of developing our creativity and in broadening our horizons. He writes “I have lived a thousand lives and I’ve loved a thousand loves. I’ve walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read.”
A number of years ago I used this column to share my top ten tips for fostering positive reading habits in young children. As we pass the end of the third week of lockdown, it is the perfect time dust this off again.
1. Love. Make reading time special and intimate. Snuggle together with your child and use it as an opportunity to make them feel special.
2. No phones or other distractions. This is special time for you as well as your child. Trying to elevate the status of this time in your family is paramount so … switch your phone off or leave it in another room. Even better – make your child switching your phone off part of the reading routine. This designates reading time as sacred and, just as importantly, models the process of concentrating on relationships without our devices interfering.
3. Talk before you start the reading. Ask about the cover, the title, and pictures. Encourage your child to make predictions and then discuss how these were proven or disproven.
4. Interrogate. Ask questions that encourage your child to interact with the themes and particularly those that encourage inferential thinking. A favourite follow up question is “What makes you say that?” as this requires your child to locate evidence to substantiate their opinions.
5. Evaluate. When you finish reading ask what they liked. Again, follow up by asking them to substantiate their opinion.
6. Mix it up. Read a range of story types with them – make use of libraries and librarians (our school ones are fabulous).
7. Revisit your favourite books from childhood and describe what it was like when Nana, Papa, Buba or Zeida read them with you.
8. Model your love of reading. Let them catch you totally immersed in a book. Discuss this with them. Let them know the title and a little about what you are currently reading and let them know when you move on to a new book.
9. Delegate. Encourage older siblings, cousins and grandparents to read with your child. This is an act of love and should be shared around! Before you do this, discuss the principles of how the reading experience should be with them (i.e. no phones, no criticism, lots of open questions.)
10. Give books as treats and gifts. Take them to the bookshop and the library. Help them with their choices but try to avoid telling them they are not ready for something. Remember that there are many ways to read a book including exploring pictures. Don’t discourage their choices. If they take something that seems inappropriate, consider still grabbing it but perhaps also grab a back-up.
I hope that this helps you to elevate reading to your child as the important expression of love it can be for your family.