A love of reading starts at home. We all remember the joy of being read to, snuggled up while a parent soothed us with a story, and we continue this bedtime tradition with our own children, to instil in them a love of stories and the magic of books.
The importance of literacy in development and success cannot be underestimated – there is even a charity dedicated to promoting it – The Reading Agency. A spokesman told us: ‘The Reading Agency was founded with a fundamental belief in the life-changing opportunities that reading can bring. We support and encourage all kinds of reading – magazines, song lyrics, Manga, texts. Too often young people don’t think of themselves as readers because they don’t read novels.’
Rachel Morley, the head of Junior School at Dover College, believes parents can support this. She says: ‘We always encourage parents to let children see them reading, to read with them even if they’re very competent readers. If they grow up in that environment they’re more inclined to read independently.’
School, of course, has a huge part to play. This is where children learn to read as well as developing a passion for books. William Trelawny-Vernon, the headmaster at St Ronan’s School in Hawkhurst, told the Wealden Times: ‘Finding that special book that sets off a life-long love of reading. Every child has ‘one’ book that sets them off on a reading journey. Some take longer than others to find that book, but persisting with the quest is part of engaging children and young people in a relationship with reading that enriches their whole lives.
‘At Saint Ronan’s we value and promote reading. Having books available that are relevant and engaging is important. Our library is stocked with books recommended by the children and being read by the children, not necessarily always an adult’s choice, but it is important to have material that is age appropriate and popular as well as the classics.’
A library is a great place to start off readers but setting aside a comfortable area for quiet reading can help too. Elisabeth Sherwin is the Pre-Prep School Literacy Co-ordinator for St Edmund’s School in Canterbury. She said: ‘We have a wide variety of books and cosy reading areas in every classroom. The children are encouraged to take books home to share with their parents.’
Sharing the reading experience and knowledge from books is important. Christine Flowers, head teacher of Bricklehurst Manor School in Wadhurst says: ‘Our pupils take home books from the age of three – they may just look at the pictures or read them together with parents. Our children love factual books – they love to learn about the world around them. Some will take away books that are way beyond their capability but they will still look at the pictures, or read it with a parent.’
So what is the best method to teach children to read? Mrs Flowers says: ‘A developmental approach to reading, writing, speaking and listening is essential. We don’t follow trends but we use a mix of reading through phonics, blending, breaking down words and word recognition. In nursery we use the Jolly Phonics system (an approach that uses actions for the 42 letter sounds) as well as puppets, role play and storytelling.’
St Edmund’s School have introduced an online reading initiative to support its other reading schemes. Mrs Sherwin explains: ‘The class teachers use different reading schemes, selecting books appropriate to the interests of the children. We have found that boys enjoy our Project X reading books. These books have really fired the children’s imaginations with many boys continuing reading during wet playtimes!
‘The class teachers work with the children to develop at their pace, selecting genres carefully and tailoring reading books to each individual child whether poetry, fiction or non-fiction. The children develop into enthusiastic and interested readers with a genuine love for books and reading.
‘Bug Club is our new online reading scheme where the teacher allocates books to the children to read at home on the computer. The children can read the stories and answer comprehension questions to gain “rewards” for their onscreen bug character. The class teacher can follow the progress of the children and select books to extend and support the children’s reading.’
Mrs Frampton-Fell, head teacher of the St Edmund’s Pre-Prep, says: ‘Bug Club Online Reading does not replace the important one-to-one teaching in the classroom but it does add a new dimension to the reading experience. The children and parents are very enthusiastic; we have noticed that it has inspired some of our reluctant readers.’
Mrs Morley at Dover College said: ‘We use Oxford Reading Tree alongside many other different resources. We encourage pupils to have a varied diet of reading but we don’t want to dampen their spirits. If we have a reader who only wants to read Harry Potter then that’s fine. We will try to push them to read as much as they possibly can.
‘It’s a huge generalisation but boys can be more reluctant and we’ve had lots of success with Harry Potter and the Skulduggery series, for example. It’s tapping in to what interests them and pushing more competent readers to try out different genres.’
Technology is now playing an increasing role. Mr Trelawny-Vernon says: ‘At St Ronan’s, Kindles are coming into school, so that reading is encouraged on screen as well as on paper. Whatever works but always with enthusiasm.’
Mrs Morley at Dover College adds: ‘Technology has added a whole new dimension to lessons – for example we had a fun session in class about text talk, as long as they know where the words come from.’
Many schools now take part in the national celebrations from Book Week to World Book Day. Mrs Flowers from Bricklehurst Manor says: ‘Our Book Week this year is based on the theme of Royalty to link in with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The children will dress up as kings and queens, princes and princesses, from their favourite books. There are so many characters that will inspire them!’
St Ronan’s head Mr Trelawny-Vernon says: ‘We hold a Book Fair and will host a book swap where children can trade their books with each other once they have finished with them. In class we write reviews and recommend titles to each other. Reading is something we must nurture and develop or like some rare species of flower it may just become a thing of the past!’
Philippa McCarmick, head of Sutton Valence Pre-Prep School, offers these top tips for parents:
What is the right level in reading? When a reading book has been sent home, your child would have already read it – or part of it – with their class teacher. They may well remember it from memory. If this is the case you can cover up the pictures to give them less of a clue about the words on the page. However, do not forget that pictures are to be used to help learn to read and are a reading cue.
Types of book We start off on picture books, with no words, which can be daunting for parents. Ask your child what they think will happen next, what can they see. That’s a massive part of reading – looking at the pictures for clues. We use four different schemes so we can move children up, down and across. Sometimes a child needs not to be reading one type of book and may need more words, fewer words. It’s offering a range of books for them.
When hearing our child read should we correct them if they read words incorrectly? It is soul-destroying to correct everything so revisit the words and point out if the words made sense or not within the context of the sentence. Encourage the child to look again at the sounds in the word and refer to their phonic sounds.
Choose the right time to read with your child Television and radio turned off, no other distractions around. Make sure younger or older siblings occupied and not causing a distraction or interruption.
Use your local library There is so much going on – books, audio books and activities.
Praise, praise, praise!
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