The joys of reading with our children

Literacy and how we can help!

A wise man once said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ He was Nelson Mandela. It is thought that one in eleven children from disadvantaged backgrounds are unlikely to own a book or be read to. Currently adults of between 55-56 perform better than many 16 – 24 year olds. This is a concern as we need a skilled workforce to progress our society. 

Children who enjoy reading at 10 can have a higher reading age than their peers, a longer life expectancy and hopefully happier mental health. The effects of the COVID pandemic and time spent out of school have made the gap between those who can read and have access to IT to do their lessons much wider when children returned to school and started lessons again. Those who suffered through lockdowns will need much more support to ensure their life chances are not blighted. 

How can we as readers ourselves support children, young people and adults returning to education develop their literacy skills? What can we do to support whilst slowly getting back to our own lives?

Schools have been starved of funds to develop their libraries over the years. They have lost their librarians and their stock of books has probably not grown greatly either. We can help:

  • Offer funds for the purchasing of books,
  • Go into schools and run book clubs,
  • Hear children and adults read,
  • Talk to them about their hopes and dreams.
  • In other words, befriend schools and institutions in your area and help them with their literacy projects where you can. There will probably be a great need.
  • If you are in a group such as the WI, Rotary, a reading group, donating to a food bank – maybe you can collect a box of good as new books and present them to a local school or families for their children.

Help children to catch the reading bug!

Babies watch and learn from a very early age. You can never show them a picture book too soon. They will pat the picture and enjoy sitting on your knee listening to you telling them about the pictures. They will point out objects, turn pages, and as they get older begin to understand what they are looking at. I remember a walk in the country with our son riding on his daddy’s shoulders suddenly beginning to make baaing sounds. He was regularly shown the ‘Ladybird Farm Animals’ book and had seen some sheep in a field and made a connection!  A friend who volunteered with Home Start, who read a story, sat on the stairs with a toddler, on a home visit, arrived the next week to find the little one sitting on the stairs with the book waiting for her story.  Singing nursery rhymes, helps children understand the rhythm of language and sounds. Repeating words correctly to them helps form the first steps towards literacy. 

There is so much we can do to support reading as individual family members and in groups in our communities. Our support is much needed. Giving books to schools for their libraries and for children who do not have access to books can make a real difference to a life. We will never know who we helped to catch the reading bug, but we will have made a difference to a life.

Young boy reading books on the floor

Keep reading!

Reading to our children is one of the best things we can do to help them on their road to literacy. Snuggling up with a baby and showing them pictures and talking about them is a great start. Little hands slapping the page as they explore the pictures they begin to recognise and make sense of is a joyful experience. 

When they can move around and understand that a book gets them on a knee, they will present you with a chosen favourite and enjoy looking at it with you. The toddler will show you where the dog, cat, butterfly is as they look at the pages of a much loved book. My son used to love looking at a book of farmhouse animals and making the sounds. When out walking along a country lane, riding on his dad’s shoulders he began to ‘baa’ – he had seen his first live sheep and recognised it from the pictures in his book!

How reading to children can help them

Research shows that parents, reading to their children regularly, will help with the development of their cognitive ability. If you read to your children from an early age they acquire an excellent vocabulary and thereby understanding and acquiring knowledge. They will enjoy discussing what they are looking at and what the story is about. By reading to your children you are giving them a good head start for when they begin school. 

Fathers reading to their children have a big impact on their learning and help their children to enjoy and value reading as a way to explore their world. Remember, through you, your children learn to like reading and reading with you is always special!

Reading every day, especially at bedtime, becomes a loved routine and there is no reason to feel that once they start to progress through school, you have to stop reading together. Indeed, research has shown that reading together helps parents and children share ideas and thoughts as well as relax and share unique moments together. 

As your children get older there are many books out there to choose from – the popular celebrity authors’ books tend to be promoted by the bigger publishers but there are many more excellent writers that can be enjoyed. Share the books you enjoyed at their age; they will probably like them too. Look for books you will enjoy reading with your youngster as they mature, the classics, old and modern have a lot to offer and will develop their imagination, vocabulary and ability to use language well when writing. Non-fiction is good too; boys especially enjoy books with facts in them. One of the reasons why my books have a ‘Did You Know’ section is to whet the appetite for further investigations!