How to Grow a Book-Lover

If there is one thing I have learned in my 14 years teaching it is this; children who enjoy reading find everything easier when it comes to school work.

They don’t have to be amazing at it, if there is enjoyment, skill and mastery will follow.

I am now at the stage where I am seeing this as a parent as well as a teacher with my eldest having just started Senior Infants. He has grown to really enjoy reading in the past few months and this brings me SO much relief!

Relief because I know that his enjoyment of reading will mean an easier road through education from here on out.

How do we as parents increase our chances of growing a book-lover?

Or at least a book-tolerator?!

When our children start school we are plunged into a world of phonics, sight words, readers, textbooks, flashcards and it is without doubt overwhelming for everybody involved.

I have realised along the way with my boy that learning to read starts WAY before the first day of school, and it doesn’t involve a degree in Education either!

Having books around the house, especially age appropriate books as they grow, makes a huge difference. Yes of course they will literally eat them for most of the early years, but they will also learn how to turn pages with board books, learn to engage with the pages with feely books, they will enjoy colours and shape and textures; this is the beginning of becoming a book-lover.

Stories at any time of day, not just bedtime, will encourage a love of books, will build vocabulary and language skills, as well as foster strong bonds with the adult who is reading.

These early days are when they make a positive association with books and reading, so when reading becomes part of the “work” in school, it doesn’t feel so much like work.

Pre-school age is a golden time for encouraging a fondness for books and reading. This is the age where they will claim to “read” their favourite books as they know them off by heart from listening to the adult read them (a million times against their will🥴).

They might be glued to Cocomelon or Baby John or whoever the flavour of the month is, listening to and singing the same tunes and rhymes over and over. Mindnumbing as this is for the grown ups, it is also great for vocabulary building, memory skills, and the subtitles on many of these shows will in time also lend themselves to early literacy skills… see folks there’s some valid excuses to throw on the telly for an extra few minutes😅

A sense of rhyme, being able to hear similar sounds in words and identify matching items by sight and sound are all key skills when it comes to learning to read and write. We instill a lot of these skills in our children without even realising it; basic interactions, conversations, rhyming stories (hello Julia Donaldson!), nicknames we give them and their siblings etc will all add to this bank of knowledge.

We have often unintentionally laid the foundations for future readers by the time they get anywhere near school. Of course it doesn’t happen by accident, and it does take some effort, but what I mean is it happens naturally and informally as you interact with your child.

Once school starts, it all begins to feel very formal very quickly, and this can be stressful for us as parents.

Reading is an area that can cause so much tension for parents and children alike; mostly due to expectations… and them often being unrealistic!

We question ourselves, we wonder what our children “should” be able to do, we wonder what the hell the teacher is thinking send home ALL THIS STUFF…!

Learning to read does not happen overnight.

Certain elements of reading skills will appear to happen overnight though! One day you will be on the verge of throwing the word box down the toilet or using it as a firelighter… and the next, your child will be listing them off as if they have known them for years.

Blending sounds to make words is another hurdle that many kids seem to fall at for a painfully long time… and one day, PING! they can blend, and everyone sleeps better that night!

Keeping it as enjoyable as possible (and as informal as possible) is key to keeping kids interested, and even more so for kids who do not have a natural interest in reading.

If you are faced with a list of words as long as your arm that your child is expected to “know”, do not panic. They will learn all of these words, but they will not learn them all at once. And the words they know today may well not be the same as the words they know tomorrow!

Use little word cards to make the learning/reading into a game; find the word ___, find a word that starts with ___, find the word that rhymes with ____, find the colour word/the number word/ the doing word/ the word with 3 letters etc… be creative, let your child come up with their own games to challenge you back! They are demonstrating their skills on the double if they can manage that.

Make a second set of word card using the back of a cereal box, play matching pairs, snap, whatever takes your fancy. See who can find the word first when a group of words are laid out on the table. Use a fly swatter or a spatula to “splat” the word you call out. You don’t need to have a pile of expensive resources. Simplicity is always best! And cheapest!

Yes it is hard work for us and feck does it take time and effort, but encouraging our children to learn these sounds/words in an informal way lessens the load on everyone in the long run.

If you are finding the class readers are too difficult for your child, or maybe it’s the case they just don’t want to read them at home as well as at school, provide an alternative (no harm to notify the teacher if this is an issue). I would see no problem with having your child read a book of their choosing rather than the homework book, so long as they are reading.

Trying to make an unwilling child read is a surefire recipe for a book-hater. And in turn, a potential school-hater😭

Once a child feels success, no matter at what level or how small the win is, they are spurred on to keep going, and it keeps the fire burning inside them.

We all know that there are so many kids who will never LOVE reading and will find it a challenge, whether there is a diagnosed difficulty or not, but it is our job as their parents (primary educators!) to make sure that they don’t HATE it, and that they are willing to keep trying.

Joining the library from a young age, borrowing or buying books for special occasions as well as toys, allowing them to choose their own books no matter how hard or easy they might be, allocating some spending money for books, all these small things add up to big wins and are sure to help your child develop a love of books and reading.

Growing a book-lover doesn’t happen by accident, but by the same token you do not need to stand over them Trunchbull style to make it happen either.

We lay the foundations, we provide opportunities for learning and practicing new skills, we model reading for them, we scaffold their attempts to read and we do back flips when they read by themselves.

If you are a parent who wishes you had a book-lover, it is NEVER too late to change their minds. Maybe you wish you yourself were a book-lover? It’s never too late for you either!

You do not need to be complete nerd to have an easy life at school, but being happy and comfortable around books and reading will most definitely help.

Phew, that was a long one! Thank you for making it this far!

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