Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 3 of 10
Developing a culture of reading in your home is one of the greatest gifts that you can give your children. If a child develops a love of reading, everything from that point onwards, in terms of their education, is that much easier. Experienced teachers will tell you that those children who read daily, and who read for leisure, are usually academically stronger than their peers.
No book and no reading taking place!
As teachers, it is often reported to us by children that there are no books in their homes – none owned and none on loan from a library. In addition, they also report that no one in their family reads, and more importantly, that no one reads to them. It breaks my heart to hear this. Read! Read anything and everything you can lay your hands on and let your children see you do it. Even if you struggle to read – let them witness it – they will respect you more in the long run. By watching you face up to the challenge they will know that reading is something worth struggling over.
Foundations for a love of reading
The foundations for a love of reading and reading fluency are set when a significant adult regularly reads, or tells stories, to a very young child. This is why, in so many families, it is called a bedtime story as it forms part of a nightly routine for approximately 365 days of the year. See my article on ‘Why you CAN’T skip reading to your child for 20 minutes per day‘ click here.
If you have not been doing regular bedtime stories, do not fear, as research tells us that it is never too late to start. If you do not have a book in your home right now, start making up stories as part of your nightly routine.
I know of families who write and illustrate their own stories on paper, folding them into books. The whole family gets involved and the stories grow and evolve through the laughter, imagination, knowledge and creativity that is brought to the table after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon. They treasure these family creations along with the few books they have, re-reading them every so often.
Another activity which has proven to work well for generating stories is this game:
- Each family member gets a scrap piece of paper to write on.
- Each person writes down 10 words.
- Of these 10 words at least one word must be a name, one a place, one an animal and 3 words can be objects. The rest can be random words.
- I always try to introduce one made up word for a bit of fun e.g. Oligonk.
- When the lists are complete, put them in a hat and take a draw.
- You have 20 minutes to write a story based on the 10 words provided.
- These stories can then be read aloud, passed on or read silently and provide a variety of reading material.
- Young children can work together with a parent. Older children can work independently.
- For a fun additional activity, each person can illustrate the main character of their story e.g. What do you think an Oligonk looks like?
Read by example
If South Africa is going to improve its literacy levels, as it needs to, we have to start introducing regular reading into our homes as a matter of urgency. With a family culture of reading, children will start to read by example. They won’t feel that reading is only a school activity or a homework chore. I believe that reading is supposed to be fun, exiting, comforting and stress free. It should be one of a child’s favourite activities. Think of stories around a campfire in the old days.
In order to feel motivated to read for themselves, children should see adults reading around them on a daily basis. Things such as…
- non-fiction books
- fiction books
A child who sees the adults around him / her reading will know that reading is important and that literacy is important. A child that never sees people reading will believe that reading is only a school activity and is only for children. Unfortunately, if none of the adults in your family are book worms, you’ll just have to fake it. The school curriculum of today does not allow as much time for reading in the classroom as my generation had growing up. Therefore, if you want your children to be literate and fluent in reading, you had better start playing your part.
South Africans spend twice as much on chocolate each year than they do on books.
Before you mention that books are unaffordable in South Africa, as a reason for why we lack a culture of reading, consider this: South Africans apparently spend twice as much money on chocolate each year than they do on books (see Further reading – Literacy: Once upon a time, parents taught their children to read). Based on this alone, I think we as South Africans can afford to start a culture of reading. Buy books, instead of sweets, and save money by not paying the dentist.
Libraries are an underutilised resource in South Africa
There is a library of some variety in every community in our country, which is practically free. I’ve looked up libraries across Johannesburg on Google Maps for my students, in an attempt to prove to them that there is a library on their doorstep.
As a child I visited the library every week, along with my mother and my two sisters. It was just something that we did and we never questioned it. The expectation that we would read was no different to the expectation that we’d would brush our teeth, take a bath or do our homework. My mother spent hours reading to us, until we could do so for ourselves. It paid off as we are all avid readers today. Our family culture of reading is stronger than ever. My retired parents read for a minimum of 6 hours a day on average, sometimes more.
Advantages of reading
Reading and a family culture of reading leads to…
- a wider vocabulary
- greater exposure to good grammar, spelling and punctuation
- improved visual memory
- improved writing skills
- development of the imagination
- improved analytical thinking
- reduced stress
- improved verbal skills
- greater general knowledge
- being able to educate yourself on any topic
What’s not to love about reading?
- No matter your own level of literacy, find things to read and read them in front of your children. Be the example!
- Read with your children whenever you can.
- Even if your own reading fluency isn’t perfect, never be shy to try reading to younger learners. You can use pictures and voice animation to tell the story. They’ll love every minute.
- Reading pictures is part of the pre-reading strategies that need to be encouraged in young children.
- When children see adults trying to do something that they are not good at or find difficult, they start to believe that it must be important and that they should also try. There is never any shame in trying and this is a life lesson that children should learn.
- Ask older children in your family to read stories to the younger children or even to the whole family. It is good practice for them and they can play a part in developing your family’s culture of reading.
- Join your local library and visit regularly, along with your children.
- Teach your children how to take care of books. Have a special place in your home where library books are safely kept.
- Collect free magazines from stands outside the shops and scatter them around your home.
- Bring home the newspaper if possible.
- Create a print rich environment.
- Ask friends, family and work colleagues to collect old magazines for you.
- If there is someone in your family who is unable to read, ask them if they would be willing to make up stories for the children – it will help to spark their imaginations and will go a long way is helping you to develop a culture of reading and storytelling in your home. Old people are usually very good at this and as such they are a great resources.
- Read Six tips to create a reading culture in your home by Raising Independent Kids
- South Africa’s reading crisis is a cognitive catastrophe by John Altchison
- Literacy: Once upon a time, parents taught their children to read by Nick Mulgrew
- How to read to your child: Tips & tricks by Raising Smart Kids
- What is literacy? by Lianne Bantjes
To explore working with Lianne in Randburg / Sandton and other areas in Johannesburg, contact her for a consultation to discuss how she can assist you.