There is a great gap between those children who have discovered reading and take delight in it; and those who are resistant and have to be dragged to it. There are also many alternatives to reading; the modern world offers a vast range of audio-visual and interactive distractions. How do we respond to these challenges and how to we begin to promote enjoyment in reading?
In recent years I have been asked to work with parents and children to improve reading skills. I have been asked to take part in this heroic struggle! Indeed, there is strong evidence that boys' reading skills are increasingly falling behind those of girls, and that boys come back to school after the summer holidays with poor reading skills.
Let's investigate two questions:
How do we guide and support the enjoyment in reading and help to improve skills?
How could we link reading to creativity, community, and interactivity?
Here are 15 motivational tips (with an emphasis on reading on boys as a target group):
1. Any reading is good reading.
Boys often re-read books that they have enjoyed. But don't just stick to fiction; there are great factual illustrated books, top tips for boys, motor car books, jokebooks, sports annuals, magazines and graphic novels. Don't just stick to the classic fiction that adults say they enjoyed reading in their childhood.
2. Lead by example
Children copy those around them. If a boy sees his brother, dad, or uncle reading, then he will be more likely to identify reading with positive male role models. Demonstrate that reading is a normal human activity. Try newspapers, car manuals, TV guides, celebrity books, survival guides ...
3. Install bookshelves.
Having a place to keep your books safe shows that they are a valued resource and part of the living furniture of the house.
4. Start to use the local library.
We hear a lot about cuts to library services but the truth is that many children's libraries are an excellent resource. Take time to explore and select books.
5. Listen to recommendations.
Asks teachers, librarians and bookshop staff for recommendations. Explain what kind of books you like. Sometimes it is better to build on existing tastes rather than developing new ones.
6. Boys like gadgets!
So I'm not excluding online reading, e-readers and kindle. Let children research their reading styles and preferences.
7. Friendly, polite conversation, and open questions build confidence.
Children like to talk about what they read and why they liked something. Often they will be delighted to tell you the full story in their own words. Ask them about their favourite moment in a book! This process is the beginning of critical reading and creative insight. Talking about reading builds the activity into the fabric of school and community life.
8. Build creatively on what you read.
Make your own picture books and story continuations (prequels and sequels) based on favourite books. Or try alternative endings. Make a short film or radio broadcast about your favourite reading.
9. Set an agreed reading time.
This approach involves trial and error. Reading by discipline misses the point that reading ideally is self-motivated. However, reading may be a good wind-down evening or night-time activity - half an hour at the end of the day is often enough. It does not have to be every day.
10. A sense of progress.
Some children work well with a target and a bar chart of their daily reading progress. Try setting a token reward for boys who get past page 100. (Research shows that many children give up before then.)
11. Collaborative reading.
Children love reading and being read to. It helps if you both try out funny voices or read the characters with facial expressions. Children's reading groups and clubs are also an excellent way to share reading experiences. Why not set one up in your local area? Also look out for reading activities at your local school or library.
12. Multiple languages.
Some books are available in parallel translations which helps if English is not your first language.
13. Encourage your child to read with other children.
There is not reason why an eleven year old cannot teach his seven year old brother how to read. When the child slips into teacher mode he or she will have a massive confidence boost.
14. The ideal present.
When you have find out what your child likes, remember that a book is a great gift. Or give book tokens and allow the children to make their own choices. But books should not be the only present.
15. Reading should not be like a term in prison!
Although I've read thousands of books there are still some days when I prefer a walk, or just listening to music. Motivated reading is more about freedom, and less about control. Parents who are too ambitious can do quite a lot of damage. Use your common sense and find a negotiated balance.
Shared time may, in fact, be the most rewarding human interactive element in reading.
Over to you! Do you have any tips, recommendations, or questions?
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)
© Dr Ian McCormick. But please do contact me if you want to use this article as a guest post on your blog. With attribution offered I seldom refuse!