How To Encourage Children To Read For Pleasure

At the weekend I wrote quite a long post about how researchers have found that children read for pleasure for less time than they ever have. I posed questions and added my own ideas as to why this might be, and we had a really great discussion through the comments where those on my Facebook page shared their experiences and current situations with regards to their child’s reading and how they felt towards reading.

Afterwards I carried on the thinking (I still have ‘busy brain’ so I may as well do something productive with it) and wanted to share another aspect of how we approached learning to read and reading for pleasure.

When F was learning to read (and with the boys to a certain extent) we used real books rather than a scheme. I found this ignited her interest and motivated her and, therefore, she was much happier to get her book to come and read with me. Choice and autonomy are powerful motivators and giving the power to F in relation to what she was reading certainly worked.

She exerts her power still today. She will not read anything she doesn’t want to (she’s 8 so this isn’t an issue for GCSE texts) and because she’s a free reader, this is absolutely fine. She voraciously reads a whole set of books by an author (oh, how she is like me) but then reads nothing for weeks (oh how she isn’t like me) which makes her a ‘binge reader.’ There’s no steady flow of 20 minutes per night; it’s hours or nothing at all.

But she’s a free reader and an awesome reader and she totally understands what she’s reading so I let her get on with it. Her school lets her get on with it.

Arriving at this point I think was totally due to how she learned to read. There was a time when she was finding phonics tough (even if you don’t follow a strict phonics scheme – and there’s actually no law that says you have to as a home edder) because even if you don’t teach the sounds in the rigid prescribed way the curriculum demands, you do still have to have conversations as to the squiggles on the page and the sounds you make with your mouth in relation to them. We read a few of the Read Write Inc books, using the paper copies of the green and pink sets to highlight various sounds, work our way through the speed sounds writing her time each time she did (she’s highly competitive against herself) and annotating the book how we saw fit.

A friend commented on how she would never let her child ‘draw on a book’ and this showed she wasn’t overly impressed by my approach. I explained that I’d said to F that these were her ‘learning books’ that were teaching her to read and that they weren’t her ‘reading’ books.

This, I think, was and still is an important difference and one you can make with your own child. Of course, I am in no way saying that you should draw all over your child’s book but I am saying why not make the distinction between the scheme book your child is being asked to read at home and the books your child actually wants to read?

Why not call school reading books their, ‘learning [to read] books’ and the books they chose to read their ‘reading book?’ It will explain why that book they’ve brought home may not be lighting their fire and they might understand that while the learning books from school might not be the most exciting thing in the world, they can have their place in the journey of your child learning to read. Having said that though, they shouldn’t be the *only* books your child ever reads. Imagine eating only one brand of food, yes, you may like all the dishes they have to offer but you may find a different brand adds a slightly different ingredient that you find you enjoy more. If you never get to taste that dish from the different brand, then you’ll never know just how amazing (‘shamazing’ I’d say) that dish can really be. It’s like that with reading: scheme books can lack variety and be a bit ‘same-y’ and we need to step outside the scheme to offer variety, difference and inspiration.

You’re making a clear distinction between a book that might be prescriptive, repetitive and something that they aren’t finding interesting and the books they actively *chose* to read and read, dare I say it, for pleasure.

It’s worth a go. Reframing the reading that your child does and separating the school books with home books may just help them enjoy reading just a little bit more.

Oh, and I’d also say (rather controversially) that a school does not own your child’s reading. If they aren’t enjoying the book that’s sent home, encourage them to read a little more (because books can get better) but if that doesn’t inspire them then leave the book and go and read something else. Make sure you discuss that we don’t do this with all books, just the ones that we really aren’t enjoying. Also make sure your child still reads; this isn’t an excuse to not read at all but for your child to take charge of their reading and to read what they want to. This goes back to autonomy and choice. Record what your child read and explain you switched because they weren’t finding what they were reading interesting.

As a teacher, a previous home edder and a mum, I’d much rather an excited child came to me with a fabulous book they just wanted to share rather than read in a reading log that getting them to read was a bit of a battle and mum/dad are a bit frazzled and it’s all a bit stressful.

Step away from the mindset of being tied to the reading scheme book. At school your child will read what the school directs but at home your child can read what the heck they like.

And no, I don’t diss all scheme books. My lot loved Read Write Inc -though we only tended to read the first 3 sets of 10, ish, books because after that they were off- and I think it was O who very much enjoyed the Magic Key series from the Oxford Reading Tree.

What I am saying is that if they love their school reading books -great- but if they don’t then go and find something else that they do.

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