It starts out a happy sign of a young learner’s first steps towards independent reading. The parent tucks their child under their arm to listen to them sound out words and occasionally stumble over syllables, filled with a mixture of pride and nostalgia. At intervals, the child will raise their wide eyes to their parents’, seeking help in navigating this tricky language.
Once the book has been finished, the parent dutifully writes down its name and the date, and places it back into the specially decorated box.
By term 3, things aren’t looking quite so rosy. The book box is decidedly more tattered. Stickers are peeling off and the lid threatens to tear away. Everyone’s patience is in a similar state.
The young reader has wearied of this nightly ritual, in their annoyance flips a page over so roughly that it rips. The parent berates the child, who refuses to continue. Other times the child simply slumps down, crestfallen, when the parent drags them away from their Lego, complaining about having to read their school reader every single night. Simultaneously, the parent curses the requirement to do this EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. The problem is compounded by the fact that listening to the reader is an activity that is only ever remembered at the last minute, when the child is tired and the parent has a clear view of the finishing line – the children’s bedtime – when they plan to crumple in an exhausted heap on the couch.
These are the reader battles with which many parents of school-aged children will be familiar.
I have only recently become embroiled in reader wars, with my first child starting Prep this year. By the end of July, I don’t know who resents the process more. And this, from a mother who loves reading enough to write a books blog.
It is no way to build a love of reading, which is surely the end game. And so, I’ve decided there are some things I am going to do differently to try to ensure that I don’t inadvertently kill my son’s joy of reading altogether. After all, I wholeheartedly agree with Jacqueline Kennedy when she said,
“There are many ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”
While some experts have questioned the role of home readers at all, wondering whether they were a hindrance, rather than a help, I can’t agree with them. I love the idea of sitting with my son as he comes to master reading. I want to help him out along the way, and I believe these school readers are of great value on the road to literacy and a love of reading.
Benefits of school readers include that they are pitched at the right level for early readers, and high quality readers can provide children with a solid grounding in phonics, comprehension and vocabulary.
It is just a matter of making it work in practice.
So, to help other parents for whom the nightly reader has become a battle like it can be in my house, here are some tips that I will help get us back on the right track ensure that a love of independent reading doesn’t get stamped out before it had really begun:
- Do not wait until the last minute before bedtime to sit down to listen to your child read. Try to do it just after dinner or bath time, when your child is warm, comfortable and no longer hangry. If that means an earlier dinner, so be it (I’ve always quite enjoyed a 5pm dinner, anyway!). An earlier reading time also means that you won’t be desperate to get the kids to bed, and children won’t be too sleepy to engage with their reader. Take particular care not to fall into the trap of leaving the reader until late on Sunday night, after everyone is exhausted from a busy weekend.
- Try to maintain the enthusiasm that you first displayed when your child started bringing home readers, even if sometimes, you have to fake it. Modelling a love of reading is a crucial part of encouraging children to enjoy reading, too. By racing through the reader, or sighing when you realised that it was the final ‘chore’ that hadn’t yet been completed, you are giving your child the wrong impression\ Similarly, talk about your own reading in a positive light, saying you are looking forward to the chance to read in bed, or take your children to the library for an outing. These days, libraries often have bright, enticing areas for children to explore and pick out books for themselves. Reading is not a job or a duty, something to tick and move on from. It should be one of life’s joys, given the time, space and enthusiasm that it deserves. Ensure your child can see that in your own behaviour.
- Lighten up. If it gets too late to read the reader, it is not the end of the world to miss a day. If you really want to make it up, read two tomorrow. As long as you get to the reader most days, it is unlikely that your child will be berated by his teacher (and if he is, you might want to have a chat about it). And be flexible about what your child wants to read. If they would prefer to go with another picture book in the house, so be it. The choice will allow them to think about what they really want to read, and understand that they do have a choice. Try to encourage your child towards readers most of the time, but it’s really not worth the battle if they insist on another book. And to be honest, I’ll enjoy the nights when my son chooses something by Mem Fox, Nick Brand or Dr Seuss. That is not to say that school readers can’t be funny, clever and engaging. I’ve read plenty that are all of those things. It’s more about giving my son a sense that reading is a choice, and a desirable one at that.
I am hoping that by making these changes myself, I will set my son on a journey of literacy and reading that will stand by him throughout his life. As Victor Hugo said,
“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”
School readers can play an important role in setting their imagination and passion for reading alight, as long as we tread with care.