Reading matters. The ability to read opens doors to all kinds of opportunities that otherwise remain out of reach. This is why literacy has been prized for so many centuries. Reading, whatever the subject matter, forms the bedrock for all other forms of learning. So there are few other activities that will benefit your children as much as reading with them and inspiring them to start learning to read themselves. According to The Reading Agency, reading aloud with your children for just 20 minutes a day will transform their prospects.

Here are some guidelines on how to weave reading into your family life:

1 . Be a role model

Children imitate their parents. By reading yourself, and showing how much you enjoy it, you will inspire your children to learn how to read too.

2. Have books in the home

Kindle your children’s curiosity by having interesting books and magazines in the house. They can be about anything, as long as they are interesting to you. Be sure to have at least some picture books that are very accessible for small  children and keep them at child-height so that your little ones can go to them themselves whenever they want to.

3. Read and share

Show your children that knowing how to read makes things possible. When you are cooking together, read the recipe aloud; read jokes on the back of cereal boxes at breakfast; read instruction manuals aloud.

4. Have a daily readaloud routine — or three!

Many parents save reading until bedtime. Bedtime stories are very special, but reading picture books can also bring a particular kind of intimacy and peace to other times of the day. Try pausing for a regular mid-morning or a late afternoon picture book session. Make up your own rules.

5. Let your child choose

Notice your children’s interests and let them choose the books they like the look of in your local library or bookshop. At reading time, let them do the choosing. If your child needs to hear the same story for 20 days in a row, go with it. She is processing some aspect of life and the story is supporting her in making sense of it; let her hear the story until she is ready to move on. One day, she will be.

6. Slow down

Reading time is slow time. This is not about performance so much as about participation. Don’t just read the story; be excited about your child’s choice of book. Talk about the pictures; ask her what she thinks of the different characters and scenes; say what you think. Share your responses.

7. Enjoy yourself!

Enjoy the journey! Bring some drama in  to the way you turn the page. Ham it up: use funny voices; dare to be outlandish and experimental. Use body language. Take as long as you need and don’t worry if you don’t get to the end.

8. Encourage love and respect

Books get battered – some of my family’s best-loved books have teeth marks, torn pages, missing dust jackets. These are all signs of love! At an early stage, though, I taught my children that books which already have words and pictures in are for reading, while books with blank pages are for writing and drawing in. Different books for different purposes:  in my house, there are always at least two note pads on the kitchen table, for writing and for drawing, and there is always a container of colouring pencils to hand. Books that are for reading live in different places: on shelves and tables from which they are taken when it is reading time. These are the ways in which I have encouraged my children to respect books.

9. Go to the library

Some of my best childhood memories are about my weekly visits to the local library. Libraries are fantastic resources and they need the support of their communities. By introducing your children to the library, you show them that books have a place in the wider community. Also, by selecting and then returning library books, and by seeing how often books have been borrowed, children start to appreciate the power of sharing and the balance between taking and giving back.

10. Don’t drop the habit

No-one is too old to enjoy a story that is read aloud. Before the age of mass media, reading aloud was an activity shared among adults in many households, as was storytelling. Try turning off tvs and other screens for a couple of nights a week and have a half-hour of reading aloud instead. I can still remember being held rapt night after night by my mother reading ‘Robinson Crusoe’ to me and my four siblings, and one of the best memories I have as a parent is of reading Tolkein together with my children.


Photo courtesy of Vicki Stearns

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