A common concern that pushes parents to seek the help of an educational psychologist is that their child is not learning to read as quickly as other children. The work I can do one to one with a child, helping to understand why it might be that they are not progressing, is highly individualised. The interventions I suggest are tailored exactly to the needs of the individual. Having said that there are some things which all parents can do which will set their children up to develop reading skills even if they are currently struggling.
In a 2010 longitudinal study from the university of Nevada in Reno, the authors reported that one of the strongest predictors for educational achievement is the number of books parents have in the home. The researchers in this case were particularly interested in educational attainment and length of time children remained in education. What is interesting about this study is that parents who owned large numbers of books were in effect modelling or showing their children that they valued learning. One of the key things you can do as a parent to encourage your children to become good readers is to read yourself.
This can be a bit tricky if you are not keen on reading. If this is the case for you, think widely about what you read. It is rare in our current world for us not to read at some point in the day. We read emails, texts and information on social media. The accessibility of information via technology has created avenues for reading that were not present in prior times. If you don’t read novels there are non-fiction texts, magazines, newspapers and so on. As you read make sure you share some of the information you are gathering with your children. This will create important links for children to understand that the times when we are sitting quietly reading we are in fact gathering information and making meaning of our world and sometimes just having fun. Our children learn a great deal from their parents’ actions and words.
One of my children was a reluctant reader to start with and slow to get going with reading at school. We had recently purchased a Sing star (for the PS4) for family entertainment and soon realised our son was struggling to sing along as he couldn’t read the words quickly enough to keep up. He was very keen to be part of the family action and very quickly his reading sped up and his reading levels at school increased very quickly also. He saw that we as a family valued the ability to read efficiently and he wanted to be part of the family fun so applied himself to his reading skills. Please note that this is simply anecdotal and I’m not recommending that Sing Star teaches your child reading. I do mean keep your eyes open for opportunities for your child to find the motivation to read and give them lots of praise and support for their endeavours.
One of my favourite books to recommend for parents trying to encourage their children to read is, The Reading Bug and how you can help your child to catch it, written by Paul Jennings, published by Penguin Books. Paul writes in a down to earth style and has lots of practical suggestions for children of different ages. One of his key messages is to keep it fun. He emphasizes the importance of reading to children. Beginning when children are very young with reading to them creates that link between the written word and the wonderful time spent with parents and caregivers. It also creates a clear message that parents, and caregivers value the written word and are prepared to prioritise time for reading. Another option for those times when parents just can’t read with their child is a recording of a book being read. MP3 files of books can be downloaded from the local library.
Sometimes it is just a matter of finding the kind of books your child is interested in. Your local library will have staff who can advise you on what is popular with the various ages and stages and speciality book shops often have excellent staff who can recommend great books. Time Out Books in Mt Eden has a fabulous children’s section and a dedicated staff member who is an expert in children’s literature. Be open to a range of possible reading sources, think about recipe books, Ripley's Believe It or Not Guinness Book of World Records, technical manuals, comic books, graphic novels, websites all of these are suitable reading material for children and young people. It’s their choice (with a parent’s guidance for age appropriateness).
Check out books that come in series such as The Pony Club Secrets or The Magic Treehouse. These are fantastic for young or reluctant readers. The books tend to have the same characters and follow the same pattern with the plot. This is helpful as there is less new vocabulary for a child to learn. Children who are struggling with reading will be able to more fully concentrate on any new aspects of the book as they already know the basic setup. There are a huge number of these series available and there is something for children of all ages. On that note it’s great to ask some advice about what is suitable for what ages. Although your child might be able to read the text of a book they may not be emotionally ready for the content. Another reason for choosing books which are suitable for the age of your child is that with so much fantastic literature available to us why would we want them to miss out on the things that are suitable for their age. As they grow up they will be able to discover a wider range of literature, but it isn’t that often that children/people will go back and read books pitched at a younger age. So, relax and enjoy your/your child’s time with Good Night Moon, because before you know it will be time for The Magic Treehouse, and then Harry Potter and beyond.
In case you are interested in the study, here’s the reference: M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikora, Donald J. Treiman. Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 2010
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.