Words | Mary Ryan
Are you looking for a New Year’s resolution that could not only benefit you, but have a positive impact on others? Easy enough to do – just make a promise to your child that from the January 1 you will read with them every single day!
A number of positives will flow on.
Reading to and with your child daily will help prevent the ‘summer holiday reading slip.’ If you haven’t read my article on the reading slip that can occur over the summer holiday break, particularly in beginner readers, then you need to know that children, especially early or beginner readers can suffer a loss in their learning over the summer holidays, and that daily reading and engagement in the written word can counter the slip.
Research tells us that daily reading with and to your children results in improved vocabulary, spelling, comprehension and listening skills. It also suggests that once children are established readers, parents stop reading with them. Vocabulary, spelling, comprehension and listening skills continue to develop and I would encourage reading with and to older children as a means of supporting this development. In my own experience, my children were highly capable readers but I didn’t stop reading to them. Even now, many of our conversations are about the books we are reading or want to read and even about words – my son used ‘heuristic’ in a piece of writing the other day and a family conversation followed!
Research also suggests that reading aloud to children benefits their cognitive development. Reading to them activates the areas of the brain that relate to narrative comprehension and mental imagery, thus building comprehension and creativity. We also know from research that students who experience academic success are more likely to have been read to regularly and have engaged in conversations on political and social issues. Books can be full of political and social issues – titles like The Littlest Refugee by Anh Do, John Brown Rose and the Midnight Cat by Jenny Wagner or The Lorax by Dr Seuss are well worth considering.
Each time we engage with our children through books we teach them to have a positive attitude to reading. We teach them that books are a place of entertainment, relaxation, a place for learning and knowledge and an activity to be shared and talked about. This can happen at any stage and age. Don’t stop reading to and with them, until they ask you to step down. However, you’ll probably find that after few tricky teenage years they will bring books out and say ‘hey, listen to this’…and share with you what they are reading.
When we read to the very early reader we teach them what is described educationally as ‘concepts of print.’ This includes the way books work, we start at the front and move through the book, turning pages at a time, reading left to right, line by line, responding to grammar, following a story. Children who have been read to regularly have this knowledge. These are the foundational skills of literacy, as is an emerging understanding that we read to make meaning from text. Children learn this through exposure to and experience with books.
One of the greatest joys of classroom teaching is what we call modelled reading, when you see a teacher with the whole class sitting in front of them and sharing a book. I have never met a child who doesn’t absolutely love this time in the school day. Even the most challenged child will settle as they are read to, they laugh – think Mr McGee and the Biting Flea by Pamela Allen – and they cry – think The Burnt Stick by Anthony Hill. I’ve included a video of the reading of a book called the The Book With No Pictures. The reader commands the room in as diverse a classroom as any, yet no teacher needs to fuss with children to get them to behave. In fact, as soon as he opens the book the room falls silent. I’m not suggesting you bring the neighbourhood around, but I am suggesting that every day you spend time completely engrossed in sharing a book or better still, a couple of books with your child.
Stories are powerful and children of every age love them. We have a lifelong impact on our children when we share books with them, and our children love this time even as they grow older. When they are little and leaning to read, we can create a safe space to share books, listening to them practise the skill, and allowing them time to just enjoy you reading. When they are older it can be about them practicing to read well, making sense of more complex texts through conversations with you and again, just enjoying you reading to them. When we share books with younger and older readers we build their competence and confidence.
As I said at the beginning, the New Year resolution of reading daily to your children has benefits for everyone. As parents we are raising the adults and leaders of tomorrow, and it’s our responsibility to work with educators to ensure the very best learning for our children so they become empathetic, just and creative adults, ready to take on the world with responsibility and care. By doing that, potentially, hopefully, we leave the world a better place than what we found it.
Finally – and maybe most importantly – let me promise you, when you build a relationship with your children around books you will build a relationship that is life-long, so while we are meant to hand our children over to the world, books will always be a place where we can come together. My family is living proof.
Mary Ryan is a teacher of over 30 years of experience in school and system leadership and the classroom. You can find Mary on Facebook at Teacher at the Gate a place where expert teachers partner with parents to better understanding their children’s journey through school.