Helping your child learn to read is a rite of passage. When our eldest daughter started primary school there were a lot of changes to her – and our – routine. And one of them was reading practice.
Her teacher couldn’t emphasize it enough – read, read and read at home. Just a few minutes a day will make a huge difference. Great, we thought, we’ve got this.
But we had two key challenges. One was learning how to fit it into our already crazy schedule as busy working parents with a four-year-old and a toddler who demanded attention the minute she realised that she wasn’t the centre of it. The other was getting our exhausted, reluctant child to want to do it.
It was a learning curve for us, with some bumps, tears and adjustments along the way. But now our daughter is in Year Two and is a very happy, confident reader. Soon we’ll embark on the same journey with our youngest. So it seemed like a good opportunity to share some of the tips we’ve learned on helping your child learn to read.
1/ Find the right time to read
Our daughter would return from school or the childminder exhausted. The minute we got a book out she’d look at us in despair. And after a long day of work or caring for our toddler, we were ratty too. This pretty much created a recipe for disaster.
We persisted for months before we decided to try something new. We started reading in the morning after breakfast and the difference was astonishing. Suddenly everyone was in a better place and reading went from being something we just had to tick off our to do list to something we actually enjoyed.
Now that she’s a bit older, she finds reading later in the day much easier. But we still whip out a book in the morning from time to time and we still enjoy it.
2/ Sign up to a reading scheme
We decided to join the Reading Chest, which is an online lending library. You can choose and adjust your child’s reading level accordingly and each month they send out a selection of books in the post.
The anticipation and excitement of receiving a package just for her, with her name on it, really motivated our daughter. She would rip the envelope open and want to start reading right away. She literally went from not wanting to read at all, to reading two or three books in one sitting.
Schemes like this mean that you’re not forking out to buy books that they’ll only read a few times. It also means that they have some variety from the standard reading schemes used at school. (Yes Biff, Chip and Kipper, I AM talking about you).
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a scheme like this, you could try setting up an informal one with some other parents. And of course there’s the local library. Make weekly, fortnightly or monthly trips a part of your routine and something that you all look forward to.
3/ Use positive reinforcement
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but we decided to get a sticker reward chart for our daughter. Every time she read a book, she got a star and could stick it on to her chart. Once she reached five stars, she got a reward. This could be anything from a treat to a rubber or sticker.
She loved her reward chart and often wanted to read more in order to get another sticker. Whenever we announced it was reading time, she would leap up and rush off to get a book. This made a nice change to her previous attempts to hide in the sofa and pretend to be a cat.
4/ Read anything – anywhere
Reading isn’t just about sitting down with a book. Words are everywhere – so encourage your child to read signs or posters that you see out and about.
If you’re cooking, perhaps they can read some of the ingredients out to you and help you find them in the kitchen. We even put the subtitles on our TV permanently. This means that when the girls are watching cartoons, they’re seeing the words at the same time.
And don’t forget that you’ve probably got a houseful of books, like picture books that you’ve read to your child over the years. Sometimes a bit of Peppa Big Goes to the Zoo is just the ticket and the change of scene you both need.
5/ Make reading a family activity
We love reading in our house. We have books everywhere – we’ve even got a bookshelf in the loo – and we read regularly ourselves and to our children. We have a kid’s section on the bottom shelf of our bookcase in the living room where the girls can help themselves to books. We give books as presents to other people – children and grown-ups.
Helping your child learn to read doesn’t have to be a chore. We make reading fun and cosy. Curling up on the sofa together with a cup of tea (us) and a glass of warm milk (her) makes it something that she looks forward to doing. Especially when it’s a chance for her to get our undivided attention without her little sister deciding that it’s the perfect moment to need a poo or demand a snack.
By showing books are an important part of family life, we hope to foster a love of reading that lasts a lifetime.
6/ Don’t worry about what other children are doing
Children read at their own pace. So what if little Hugo started school reciting Shakespeare already? Good for him. It doesn’t mean that your child is behind. If they truly are, their teacher will discuss this with you and help you find ways to support their learning.
We all want the best for our children and it can make us feel anxious if we know that others in their class are on a higher reading level. But the priority right now is to go at the pace that your child is comfortable with, practice regularly and making reading a fun part of their lives. If you try to jump levels too quickly and it’s too hard, it will only put them off.
In fact, reading easier books or the same book over and over again sometimes can really help with a child’s confidence as they learn to read and progress up the levels.
After all, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been asked what reading level I graduated Reception class on in a job interview. I’ll let you know if it comes up.
Is your little one starting Reception soon? Read our tips on how to get ready for starting school.