‘Making’ Readers

Books (Drama)

I’ve been reading since before I was three, and books have always been sacred to me (then, Hinduism taught me that they really are sacred!). Books helped me to make sense of the world I knew I didn’t fit into (and often believed I didn’t belong in). They gave me new words, opened up new arenas, showed me things, taught me things, gave me different perspectives, nudged me towards decisions, instructed me, and even annoyed me.

I had books for my girls before they were born, and read to them several times a day. Reading was never ‘just’ about books – it was about signs, menus, cards, posters, advertisements, magazines, and timetables. Yet, I still managed to produce a non-reader. I couldn’t understand how she had no interest in reading and tried everything to get her  to love books. The library was (and is) a place we visit for pleasure. The Kindle is stuffed with books that might interest her, our home has shelves full of books, boxes full of books, bags of books, tables littered with books and yet – and yet – she doesn’t read.

I tried everything to interest her in books; I continued reading, and talking about books, and sharing bits in books I was reading. I presented a trip to the library as a treat (well, it is!); I got her books in different genres; I got her graphic novels; I borrowed audiobooks from the library, and played them in the car when we were all together. Believing that there is no difference between a reward and a punishment, I never tied reading into getting ‘treats’ (reading is a treat itself).

Niggling away at the back of my mind was a conviction that reading was difficult for her. But was reassured, on a number of occasions, that her eyesight was so good, she could nearly see around corners, and she definitely wasn’t dyslexic. A few years ago, however, she was diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome, and the difficulties I knew she had with reading were finally recognised.

It was too late, however. She hadn’t learnt to love reading; she’d learnt it was difficult and time consuming, and painful. She could read – she just didn’t choose to.

One day, I realised that the problem wasn’t hers, it was mine. Books had been such a relief for me – such a joy, such an escape, such a wonderful gift, that I wanted to give that gift to my children. A gift, however, is only a gift if it brings joy to the recipient. I was pushing something on my child that she really didn’t want. Unpacking what I wanted her to get from reading, I realised it boiled down to four things:

  1. Love of story.
  2. Storytelling skills.
  3. Increased vocabulary.
  4. Pleasure.
  5. Critical thinking skills.
  6. Critiquing abilities.

Then, I realised that she could get all these elements are available from things she does enjoy – films, television programmes, and live theatre. And I was reminded – one size does not fit all; there is more than one way to skin a cat; as a parent, I need to provide access to what my children need – not what I want them to need, or what I think they need; my children are ‘of me’, but they are not ‘mine’; not everyone is a ‘reader’ and that’s okay.

 

My daughter can read, she just chooses not to. If she needs information that can only be accessed via text, she can navigate that text. In much the same way as I can sew – I just choose not to. If I need to fix, create, or mend something, I will drag out the sewing machine and set to. I’d much rather, however, pull my knitting close, and enjoy that. Knitting does for me what sewing (or other crafting) does for other people. Theatre, films, and TV programmes do for my daughter what books do for me. And that’s okay – we have plenty of shared passions and interests to provide us with common ground and opportunities to strengthen our relationship. What’s far more important is that we already have the ability to read each other like books.

 

Encouraging Your Children To Read

This piece first appeared in the May, 2012 issue of  Easy Parenting 

Reading is the greatest gift you can give your child. Not only is it fun, it is vital. Reading opens up whole universes to children – and can help them make sense of the one they’re already living in.

Some children love reading and take to it like the proverbial duck to water, but others need coaxing.

Of course, some children do have difficulties with reading that have nothing to do with motivation or desire. If you are concerned, get your child tested for dyslexia, dyspraxia, myopia or other optical difficulties.

If you sense your child is just reluctant to read, however, there are a few things you can do:

Confidence

Books can be intimidating. Maybe your child isn’t progressing with their reading because they worry about getting it wrong. I know this was true for my eldest daughter. I despaired over her reading until I realised that it was a confidence issue. Rather than try to read something that might be difficult – and fail – she decided it was better for her not to even try.

Once I figured that out, I invested in a few workbooks that started at the very beginning and progressed. Ishthara knew she could read the alphabet and she knew she could do the simple exercises in the workbook. So she took great pride in zipping through them. Very quickly, she built on what she already knew and it wasn’t long before her confidence soared – along with her reading fluency.

Routine

For some families, bed-time is not conducive to story-time. If that’s true for you, is there a time that might work better? First thing in the morning, perhaps? Or – if you work at home – the middle of the afternoon? When dinner’s cooking? Immediately after dinner?

Reading isn’t just about books, though, and can be incorporated into every day – when you’re driving, ask your child to spot signs with the name of your destination on them. In a restaurant, offer your child a menu and ask them to select their own meal. Have them read the instructions to a board game you’re about to play. Hand them your shopping list and ask them to help when you’re in the supermarket.

Or imitate the Finnish, who have the highest literacy rates in the world. Part of this is because all television programmes are subtitled (in Finnish). This encourages children to read along when they’re watching T.V. Our government hasn’t adopted this practice yet, but there’s nothing to stop you putting on the subtitles every time you switch the telly on.

Genres

Finding the genre your child enjoys most is a great way to find the door into reading for them. One happy day, my eldest chanced upon a book by Karen McCombie and fell in love. Since then, she has read many of Karen’s books and joined her fan club online (more reading!).

We’ve also discovered that Ishthara devours books based on fact, and books that are more ‘real’ (like the Breadwinner trilogy); while Kashmira loves books about animals as well as books with elements of time travel and the odd ghost.

Don’t dismiss comics either. In other countries they are referred to as ‘graphic novels’ and are for all ages and reading levels. As the recently-deceased Maurice Sendak (author of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’) said: ‘Kids don’t know about bestsellers. They go for what they enjoy.’

Resources

Use your local library. Ask the children’s librarian for recommendations. Libraries often have writers visit them – and some have workshops for children. Getting your child involved can add a new dimension to reading.

Rather than feud with your child over screen time, incorporate reading into it. For instance, one hundred classics – including ‘A Little Princess’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Treasure Island’ – are all available on a single cartridge for Nintendo DS®. The Internet, too, can be used to your advantage in your quest to instil a love of reading in your child. Check out http://www.bookadventure.com to start with.

Finally, remember that you are your child’s biggest resource. Lead by example – discuss books, share facts you’ve discovered through reading, and let your child/ren see you reading whenever you get the chance. 

Ishthara &Kashmira Reading