by a former school librarian
The latest National Literacy Trust research on literacy in the UK has revealed some uncomfortable facts for parents, guardians and educators.
Only 1 in 2 (47.8%) children and young people said they enjoy reading in early 2020. Yet possessing good literacy skills unlocks a world of possibilities for our kids.
So how can we get our children reading, and, more importantly, enjoying books?
I have been involved in education for twenty years, including five years as a school librarian. So here are some of the things I have learned about how to get kids reading – and enjoying it!
1. Get them online to enrich the reading experience
This may sound counter-intuitive, but it works! Lots of authors have extra resources and fun stuff on their websites. YouTube is great for book trailers. BookTok is likely to pique their interest. And ‘Book Twitter’ is the kindest of all online communities. Authors often go out of their way to communicate with their young readers. I ran a library Twitter account where students interacted with authors who answered questions, responded to reviews and even sent prizes. Liz Pichon will never know the state of hysteria she induced in one young fan!
2. Read yourself
Kids are naturally curious and want to know what you’re reading. I would often have my nose in a book when the break time rush started. Minutes later I would have loaned the book out, just by describing what I was reading with enthusiasm. If children see you reading Stephen King, they will want to know about the spooky stuff. Get them started on Goosebumps or similar, with the promise that they can progress to ‘The Shining’ later!
3. It’s all reading
Don’t dismiss comics, manga, graphic novels or any illustrated books. Many young people love them, and it gets them reading. Remember that a whole page of text can look intimidating. Small chunks of text or speech will help to develop confidence.
4. Don’t question their taste
You may sigh inwardly at yet another book about dragons/fairies/dinosaurs/gangsta grannies. It doesn’t matter. It’s their taste. Allow them to express it. It’s all reading. Some adults choose to read novels by Nadine Dorries. The world can be bewildering.
5. Reading ages are only the loosest of guides
Schools are under great pressure to prove constantly that progress is being made by students. Trust me: if they’re reading regularly, progress is being made. So it doesn’t matter which book is next on Accelerated Reader (or whatever programme is in fashion this week). Some kids love to read easy stuff or re-read favourites. Let them. Whatever interests them on that day – that’s what they should read.
6. Take them to the bookshop or library
And make the browsing process fun! There are always lots of exciting events on offer, from author visits to competitions. And if you’re in a position to buy a book, make it a prize or reward. Owning a book should be seen as something very special…
7. Have books in the house
The National Literacy Trust research in 2021 found that 1 in 11 disadvantaged children do not own a single book. Children who say they have a book of their own are six times more likely to read above the level expected for their age than those who don’t own a book.
Give the child a bookshelf, and have one yourself. Make it a normal thing to have books available in various rooms. Get books from charity shops if you need to build a collection quickly. It’s a small change that makes a huge difference.
8. Review books
Get kids to articulate their opinions about the book they have read. Don’t make it feel like a test – just chat to them. Ask open questions: who was your favourite character? What was the scariest bit? What would you have done? Why would you recommend it to your friends? These conversations foster enthusiasm and help the young person to develop confidence.
You may choose to record a short video review. These proved very popular for students in Greenaway (picture books) shadowing groups: they had lots of opinions, but not necessarily the patience and writing ability to express them fully. Or the child could draw a picture to illustrate a key scene.
However the child is happiest expressing themselves, use it as a tool to talk about books. And the reward? Give them another book!
9. Use websites to help you find good reads
If you don’t feel confident in browsing bookshelves, use the wisdom of teachers, librarians or booksellers. But remember, too, that there are many wonderful websites out there to help find the next read.
This is worthy of a blog in itself, but here are some of the best:
10. Be patient
Take it easy and try to have a light-handed approach. Try some of these strategies and be patient – something will work if you lay the right foundations.
Get in touch!
If any of these strategies have worked for you, or if you have any success stories to share, please get in touch – I’d love to hear your experiences.