Summer is a time for children to relax, get outdoors and take a break from school. However, many parents are aware that a summer without reading can be detrimental to a child’s literacy, and the terms ‘summer slide’ and ‘summer brain drain’ are widely accepted in education.
Yet what if your child refuses to read? “Make them” I hear an authoritarian voice cry! The problem with such a strategy is that it is unlikely to be successful in the long term and at worst turns reading into a punishment. The key is to get a child ‘reading for pleasure’ which by definition from the National Literacy Trust implies ‘reading of their own free will, anticipating the satisfaction they will get from reading.’
So how can we bring about a change in the reading habits of children who refuse to pick up a book? Change happens, in my opinion and having spent several years working with children who struggle with literacy, when there is a change in their perception of reading. In the words of Albert Einstein: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It can’t be changed without changing our thinking.” Here’s how you can try to change that perception:
Create an environment full of meaningful resources that are welcoming to a specific child, encouraging them to delve further. “I don’t like books” and “reading is boring” are common phrases I hear as a Literacy and Dyslexia Intervention Specialist. What is it they enjoy doing? When a child has reached the point of refusing to read it isn’t about what they are reading, it is about getting them to start the process of reading – magazines, comics, movie reviews, football cards, fact books – praise any of those to encourage the joy that can come from the written word.
Reading is not a race
Even from a young age children are acutely aware if they are different and they will likely give up or not try if they feel they have already lost the race. Reinforcing with a child that reading is not a race is crucial. A report published by the Department of Education on Reading for Pleasure noted that a key reason children don’t read relates to how it makes them feel. The tortoise and the hare approach is perfect here: focus on the progress your child makes, whatever the speed. Concentrate less on how well the child is reading but more on fostering an enjoyment of it. Any progress is positive and needs to be encouraged with praise and rewards.
I am a firm believer in the use of incentives for children who are struggling to read. Most children respond well to this approach and rewards don’t have to cost anything. A child once told me that the best reward would be if his Dad played football with him after school on the days he read. There is evidence to show that literacy targeted rewards can work well in fostering the reading for pleasure goal. Whatever the carrot, I say dangle it and feel no shame doing so.
An outward mindset
Studies into change have typically shown that permanent change happens when the individual ‘thinks outwards towards others’. Encouraging your child to have an outward mindset, seeing beyond themselves, can foster reading for pleasure. Asking your child to read to a pet, a favourite toy or a family member can encourage them to think outside their own needs when it comes to reading.
Set attainable targets… only then will children develop confidence in themselves and their abilities, and gain trust in themselves. Setting a target of “I’d like you to read to me for a minimum of five minutes and a maximum of 15 minutes” is a good target for a child struggling to pick up a book. Motivating them to start can be as simple as “I’ll count down from five.”
NATIONAL READING SCHEME
With the expense of summer, parents may be wary of stocking up on books at home. This is where the Reading Agency with its National Reading Scheme supporting literacy, the Summer Reading Challenge, comes in. Set up in 1999 this program works with local libraries to encourage summer reading among children aged 4 to 11. The success of this program is evident with over 82% of parents/carers reporting that their child was encouraged to read more during the summer.
By Juliette Laliberte (BSc. Hons, PGCE (SpLD), QTS, ATS, PATOSS)
Juliette is the mother of a child diagnosed with dyslexia and a classroom teacher with over 15 years’ experience. She specialises in literacy and dyslexia, and was named Teaching Support of the Year 2017 by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA).
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