Reading with your child
Sharing a book with a child is fun - it's a time for closeness, laughing and talking together. It can also give children a flying start in life and help them become lifelong readers.
But not everyone is confident with books and reading aloud, so here are some handy tips and advice to help you get the most out of reading together. And remember, there's no right or wrong way to do it - and it's never too early to start.
Tips for reading with children of any age
- Set aside some time
Find somewhere quiet without any distractions - turn off the TV/radio/computer.
- Ask your child to choose a book
Sharing books they have chosen shows you care what they think and that their opinion matters. This means they are more likely to engage with the book.
- Sit close together
Encourage your child to hold the book themselves and/or turn the pages.
- Point to the pictures
If there are illustrations, relate them to something your child knows. Ask them to describe the characters or situation or what will happen next. Encourage them to tell you the story by looking at the pictures.
- Encourage your child to talk about the book
Talking about the characters and their dilemmas helps children understand relationships and is an excellent way for you to get to know each other or discuss difficult issues. Give your child plenty of time to respond. Ask them what will happen next, how a character might be feeling or how the book makes them feel.
- And lastly, above all - make it fun!
It doesn't matter how you read with a child, as long as you both enjoy the time together. Don't be afraid to use funny voices - children love this!
Encouraging older children to read
As children get older, there's no need to stop enjoying sharing books and reading together.
Research has shown that children who enjoy reading and spend more time reading for pleasure have better reading and writing skills, a broader vocabulary, and an increased general knowledge and understanding of other cultures.
But with so many other activities competing for children’s time as they get older, how can you continue to encourage your child to read for pleasure?
Here are some tips for promoting reading in your home with older children:
- Ensure that your children see you reading. It doesn't matter if it's the newspaper, a cookery book, romantic novel, detective mystery, short stories, computer manual, magazine - anything!
- Encourage children to join in - ask a child to read out a recipe for you as you cook, or the TV listings when you are watching TV.
- Give books or book tokens as presents (and encourage others to do so!)
- Visit the local library together on a regular basis, and enjoy spending time choosing new books.
- Encourage children to carry a book at all times so they can read on journeys or in spare moments – you can do this, too!
- Keep reading together. There are lots of books that both adults and young people can enjoy. Try The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, the Harry Potter series, or The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Read books you can all talk about but make the talk light-hearted, not testing or over-questioning.
- Go to libraries or bookshops when authors are visiting. Children and teenagers love meeting their favourite writers - Jacqueline Wilson and Anthony Horowitz always have signing queues that are miles long!
- Make sure your home is a reading home - have a family bookshelf and make sure there are shelves in your children's bedrooms as well.
- Don't panic if your child reads the same book over and over again - let's be honest, we've probably all done it!
- Encourage your children and their friends to swap books with each other. This will encourage them to talk and think about the books they are reading.
Reluctant readers: how one writer learnt to love books
Diary of a Neurotic Zombie author Jeff Norton was a reluctant reader when he was a child. He learnt to love books simply by practising – and by finding three key elements that helped him become an avid (sort of) reader.
'I hate reading. It's hard, often boring, and very lonely.'
We didn't have the term 'reluctant reader' when I was eleven. I was never tested for dyslexia – they didn't do that sort of thing in Canada in the 1970s – but my wife is convinced I'm dyslexic as I'm a plodding reader who has to really focus to enjoy a book.
But I can and do enjoy a book now. It just took a long time to get here.
It's a vicious circle when you're not a strong reader. Children are conditioned to pursue things they can win at – and I felt I couldn't win at reading. I didn't read much, and thus I didn't improve.
My father tried to intervene by paying me by the page, but the books he gave me were from his youth and uninteresting to me. Frankly, the writing on the Transformers cartoon (written by some of Marvel's greatest talents) was better than anything I saw in book form.
But there were three things that helped my transformation from reluctant to (somewhat) avid reader...
The three things that changed everything
1. Series fiction
The first was series fiction. A good series is the on-ramp to character-driven fiction, because it establishes good habits. Children are taught that to do better in sport and music they have to practise, but nobody ever told me that reading takes practice. And part of practice is failure.
The series that I discovered – thanks to the book fairs that came to my school – was called Choose Your Own Adventure. They were interactive "game books" that had multiple endings. Most of these ended with, 'and then, you died'. As a kid with a strong survival instinct, I read the different story paths in an effort not to meet my maker. Before I knew it, I'd burned through the whole book.
That was a pretty awesome feeling for a boy who didn't like reading. Finally, I felt like I could win. While these books were probably below my prescribed reading level, I devoured about 70 of them!
With practice, my confidence grew. For me, it was series fiction, but for other reluctant readers the transformation comes from graphic fiction and non-fiction. The reading material matters less than the formation of the reading habits.
2. Funny books
My next turning point came when I discovered that a book could actually make milk come out of your nose! My teacher introduced me to the Jeff Kinney of the 1980s: Gordon Korman. I laughed so hard as I read.
If we can hook kids on reading through laughter, we can hook 'em for life. Celebrating humorous books is so important because adults tend to value "literary works" with a snobby aversion to the funny stuff.
3. Scary fiction
My final interest was fear. Thanks to my librarian, I stayed up way past my bedtime...
After The Bomb by Gloria D Miklowitz was terrifying: a Soviet nuclear explosion over Los Angeles! I'd stay up late, tucked under my covers, reading to find out what was going to happen next - always wondering what I would do.
Projecting one's self into the role of the hero is part of the process of developing empathy. Readers are forced to live a life that's not their own. This is fiction's greatest gift to humanity; an underpinning of civilized society.
Of course, my dad would burst into my bedroom and scold me for being up too late ('blah blah blah...test in the morning!'). I learned that a good book gets you in trouble – but it's worth it.
Now, as an author, that's my job. I try to write books that are funny enough or thrilling enough to risk the parental wrath of staying up late, flashlight in hand, reading 'just one more chapter.' I'm trying to get kids in trouble.
And if we all do that together, then we'll raise the next generation of readers and an empathetic society. And that's an adventure worth choosing.
Jeff Norton is the author of the funny middle-grade Memoirs Of A Neurotic Zombie children's book series from Faber. He's also a television producer and father of two boys, whom he reads to every night. He's online at www.jeffnorton.com and tweets as @thejeffnorton.