As a Phonics teacher I love to read! As the nights draw in I can think of nothing more cozy than to get a nice mug of hot chocolate and cuddle up on the sofa with a good book. But recently I have realised that, whilst my children like to read recently we have found reading time to be a struggle. What with lockdown and my kids now being at an age (9 nothing is cool except for playing Switch) and 7 (I love to read but don’t have time!) reading is a challenge. And it’s no surprise – since I was a kid there are now a million more things to do such as computer games galore, needing to log on to Roblox to collect our daily bonus plus then having tea, getting clean watching some tv and having a little play with our toys and it’s bed time again. It’s sometimes overwhelming how fast the evenings have flown by. Plus during lockdown a lot of us worked from home. In our family I was working on my laptop much of the time which meant that the children did spend more time on their screens – I knew they were safe, sometimes they were interacting with their friends plus it gave me time to focus on getting some work done. But this has filled me with guilt now as things such as reading seem to have fallen into the category of something we ought to do together as part of our bedtime routine. Often my son can’t sit for longer than three minutes to listen to a book before he is demonstrating his dance moves to us!
Why is it such a big deal? I mean surely this kind of stuff is the same for all families right? We are from a different generation where we did have fewer options to choose from and so reading probably was more central to our routine but everyone is on screens these days so what’s the harm? Should we beat ourselves up about reading? Well actually, I think perhaps we need to look at this from a different perspective. Reading and writing is arguably the most significant skill our children will learn in their years of primary school. Such a huge emphasis is placed on testing reading abilities in the phonics screening tests plus the SATS that again I think even the teaching of reading and writing is very much formed around achievement and reading to pass tests. I have read a million articles that say we should jazz reading up to make it more exciting such as acting out the story in a role play and setting the scene, like holding a beach themed reading session complete with beach towels! Or integrating screens and reading by getting your child a kindle.
Reading is a huge part of our learning journey. If you can read well you can study just about anything very cheaply by going along to the library. You can become an expert in areas you are interested in – learn another language, learn how to play an instrument. The opportunities are endless. Not to mention that recreational readers have consistently performed better on their exams since testing began – readers have a depth of knowledge about a wide varieties of subjects and are more content (as shown in multiple studies). After all, readers who don’t read are in no better position than someone who can’t read.
I don’t think we should paint reading as the boring alternative to screen time or the task we need to do before we go to bed. Does this matter now – surely my kids will grow out of their screens and may find time for reading later. I think to develop any skill and pastime you need to have it be a part of our routine from as early as possible. Technology will only advance further in the next ten years with the introduction of VR, more channels on tv than you can care to count and the developments of phones that can read your consumer profile and show you things to spend your money on without you even asking.
For me lets go back to the start. I set the scene of a lovely dark, cold evening snuggling up with a hot chocolate and a good book. It occurred to me that reading was about so much more than the book. It was about how it made me feel. Safe, comfy, relaxed, plus being able to escape from reality for a little while in to stories. I think as parents we need to link an emotion to the activity for it to be sustainable over a long time. How do we help our children establish a habit of reading for fun. Help them link the emotion to it that we do. Make sure we do set a relaxing atmosphere clear of distractions. Reading isn’t just for bedtime – maybe on a cold rainy Sunday afternoon get a fleece down on the sofa and have an hour with your book, whether you read it together with a cuddle or you read your own books together. Create that warm – safe place for children to read and feel cozy. Make a hot chocolate and make it a time they look forward too. Your kids will learn from your behaviour so if you haven’t found time to read for fun then how can your kids experience that? Make time for yourself to sit with a good book and your kids will take notice – even if they don’t show it at first.
Don’t put any pressure on – the absolute opposite of what you are trying to achieve is the feelings of rush. Forcing to read and the dread of reading that some parents say they experience at home. Don’t force it. Make a time for you to read every evening and the kids will come through and join in eventually. Tell them about the book you are reading (if appropriate!) Help them to experience the emotion and they will embed that in to their mind and read for pleasure without the stress.
Plus reading Is still hip and cool – pop to the library and ask your child to explore new books they might be interested in. Sometimes they may choose topics you never would have expected. Maybe start a reading ring with your friends each buy a book and swap them when you have all finished. This way you can have access to whole series of books without the price tag. Good luck and do share your experiences with me. I would love to hear your ideas on making reading for pleasure a fun time in your home.