One of the most important ingredients necessary for a child or anyone learning English is the habit of reading. Not just reading when necessary, but doing extensive reading that is enjoyable and addictive.
If you are to describe the kind of reader your child is, which one will you choose? Is he/she...
1. a reluctant reader > Does reading only during school's prescribed morning reading time
2. a moderate reader > Picks up a book on his/her own occasionally
3. an avid reader > Seizes every opportunity to read and always carries a book around
Whichever type of reader your child might be, the ultimate hope is for the child to be able to read for enjoyment as well as to be able to translate what he/she had read into a form of output in writing or speaking. In these few months, I would like to come up with a series of posts on our children and reading. A child needs to have an interest in reading before we can talk about being conscious of learning during reading and finally translating that input into output.
In my memory, one of the earliest books that I recalled reading were the Bookworm books which I think children these days would have no idea of. Other childhood favourites of mine include Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton, fantastic storytellers whose books are evergreen even until now. These books are packed with so much goodness but how do we even get the children to open them up and read them? -pulls hair desperately-
Do not fret. We will start off this series on some ideas to get our children to read. Whether your child dreads reading or is reading but you would like him or her to read more, I am going to share some tips and activities that I have found which may be useful in helping them read more. (Credit is given to these very helpful websites at the end of the post and you should continue to explore if you wish to. )
1. To begin... read anything!
When I just started encouraging one of my boys to read, he shared with me that he liked reading comics but his mother disallowed him to do so. I proceeded to ask if there were any words in the comic books that he read and he told me that there were not much. At this point, the eager teacher part of me just wanted to reinforce what his mother said about not reading comic books as they do not sound like they are going to value-add to his learning of the language. However, I held myself back and told him that some words are still better than pictures with no words. In fact, as long as there is English involved, he should take a read. This includes menus, biographies, magazines, brochures, itineraries etc. He eased up a little and began to listen more to what I proposed to him about reading. Eventually, our plan was that he needed to try and do 15 minutes of reading a day before he could read his comics and he said that he was willing to try that out.
As much as we are anxious for our children to soak up all the wonderful language that books have to offer, it is important not to make them feel cornered into doing so. Reading often happens when we we are interested in what we read. If your child likes sports, sports magazines may be a good starting point. If he or she likes wildlife, National Geographic (hard copy or online!) will entice them. Hence, I would think it is good to not stop them from reading what they enjoy but encourage them to balance it with other resources. In addition, it is a fact that English exists in other prints around us too and I would want my child to be sensitive to how English can be used in other materials and to have an English-conscious eye everywhere they go.
2. Use a reading log (to keep track of all books read)
A reading log helps children to record down the books that they have completed. It is useful in letting children build awareness of their growth in this journey of reading and the reflection column also allows children to voice their opinion on the books they read. Start by giving one set of the reading log to your children and when they have filled it up, you can print more. This depends on how quickly your children read.
Everyone likes to be able to make their own decisions and this reading log gives children the choice to abandon a book (to not finish a book). If they do that continuously, this pattern will emerge on the reading log and the plus point is that it gives a concrete reason for parents or teachers to highlight that to the children. Adults, you may want to proceed to find out the reason why the books are being abandoned and work it out with the child. Some reasons maybe that the book is too difficult or easy ( i.e. the child may not be picking books pitched at the right level) or there is not enough action happening in the story (i.e. this child may prefer a mystery or action type of book).
I also added in a "review" column with faces to indicate whether they will recommend the book to their peers. (Teachers, this will be nice to display in class when the child has completed a full page of the log.)
A little external motivation and encouragement to recognise their effort never hurts. I like to place motivational checkpoints on my children's reading log. For instance, for every five books that the children read, I will be happy to add points to their class point system. For parents, you can reward them with a small treat if you do not have a point system at home.
3. Doing after reading: reading record!
A reading log is different from a reading record. The previous is used to jot down all the books read by the child while a reading record helps a child to be consistent in reading every day (or most days of the week). A short response is required for the reading that children have done each day. Knowing that something needs to be done after reading gives the children a purpose in reading. Moreover, children are required to record down the amount of time spent and the pages read each day. Again, this helps the child to keep a concrete record of their progress in reading.
4. The "Reading vs. ________" Chart
What is something that your child spends a lot of his leisure time on? If you feel that your child can spend part of these time on reading instead, it is time to issue this "Reading vs. ________" Chart challenge to your child! One of my children says that he spends quite a bit of time on watching television programmes and hence, his chart says "Reading vs. TV".
Have your child record down the amount of time spend on doing each of the two activities and make a comparison of the total time spent at the end of the week. This helps the children to be more aware of doing reading whenever they are about to pick up that iPad or remote control. Kids like challenges and this may spur them on!
5. Who is in the book? - Express YOUR interest!
Express an interest in the books that your children are reading or have read! Ask your child about the book that he/she is reading and ask them how it has been. Go a step further by striking up a conversation with your child about the main characters of the book and interview him/her by having your child pretend to be the character (May I invite the main character here to speak to me please? Thank you!). Here are some questions you can ask the main characters.
Questions for the main characters!
What is your name?
How old are you?
What is today's date (in the story)?
Who are your friends?
Where do you live?
Do you go to school?
What makes you happy or upset?
You may wish to record the information on it post-it note and paste it on the refrigerator. For the next few days, you can refer to that and continue to engage your child on their reading by asking other questions. For instance, if your child mentions that the main character(e.g.Mandy) lost her bangle that day, you can ask her to pretend to be "Mandy" (May I invite the main character to speak to me please? Thank you!) and here are other questions to ask about the main character.
Questions for the main characters (Event based)
Describe what happened during the event.
How did it make you feel?
How did you solve the problem?
Was anyone else involved?
If so, who? What role did they play?
Other than showing that you are interested and aware that your children are reading, this also helps them to be conscious of details that make up characters in a story. Seize the opportunity to let them know to include such details in the characters in their own stories too.
Watch out for the second part of this series in the next few weeks as I write about how to make reading more purposeful. If your children seem to be reading a lot but the what they read is not translating into the work they produce, that post is for you. We will still be giving tips to prepare your children for the upcoming examinations in between, do stay tuned!
Credit to these great websites which inspired the materials today:
If you are thinking of growing your library of children books, you can view our recommended list by our lil' ones and teachers. These are children books we love, and once you have read them, you will fall in love too.