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How to encourage your older child to read - three top tips

My friends organised a gorgeous baby shower for me, they all bought their favourite childhood book. It was wonderful that before my first baby had even arrived, we had a library of books, and they were read to every day.

As new mums we heard, and read, that there were many benefits of reading to our young child; to build language; for relaxation; for developing listening skills and imagination. But, I hadn’t expected I would get so much from it too.

As a child I had very little confidence reading aloud and I did not enjoy reading for pleasure, so having this chance to practise animating my voice, finding the iambic pentameter in Peepo and Zachary Quack, and refinding stories that were tucked way back in my subconscious, was amazing. I absolutely loved it.

However I have to admit that I thought to myself that by the time they were a” free reader”, I would be able to sit back and think “well, that’s my job done!”

It was only when working in a secondary school, and part of a trial to increase student literacy through whole class reading, did I start to understand how important reading to older children was too.

Weak readers can struggle in many areas of the curriculum, even in maths, and as GCSE/Nationals exam questions become increasingly “wordy”, a grasp of the English language is essential for continued progress.

Alex Quigley, the National Content Manager at the Education Endowment Foundation, says: "Reading is the master skill of secondary school. Skilled reading, writing and talking is crucial for our students to succeed.”

Tips for encouraging your child to read

Read to them and read together

As children get older they are exposed to more complex language and grammar, this is when reading to your older children is increasingly important, and might be the answer to helping them stick at it. When books get more difficult to read it can, for some children, become an unpleasant experience which can quickly put them off reading.

So here is my first tip for supporting your older children to read - read to them.

It might be hard to start with until you get into a book or a routine, but I promise you it will be worth it.

Storytelling exposes your child to new language, more complex sentence structures and ideas, make sure you talk about the meanings of words and how punctuation changes the meaning.

To get the maximum benefit from this activity, ideally you would each have a copy of the book, so your child can follow the words and sentences, as you read the words. (This is a similar concept to the one suggested by Steven Fry, of always having subtitles “on” on your TV. The research has shown this can double the chance of your child becoming good at reading.)

You may find that reading to your child also has some additional unexpected benefits. A routine like this is also often very calming and can create a warm togetherness, which in turn might lead to more open communication with your child. Interesting discussions can come out of this joint reading experience too, it can not only be a conversation starter, but an excellent way to find out more about each other's interests and ideas.

Encourage them to read anything that interests them

Another way you could encourage your child to read is by finding articles you think they would enjoy, or on topics they are interested in.

It may be a sports piece on their favourite athlete in a magazine, or the latest fashion blog online, or even a funny comic.

Make sure you give it a read too so that you are then able to have a discussion with them about it afterwards.

Let them see you read

Seeing you read will naturally encourage your child to read. If your child sees you regularly engrossed in a good book, or they listen to you speaking excitedly about a story or a character, your enthusiasm will be infectious, and will make them want to explore books too. Make it part of your daily rhythm, it will be good for you too!

What all these ideas have in common is that to encourage reading - make it enjoyable. So how about this weekend you take a trip together to the bookstore or even better, your local library, and talk about the books you like, your favourite childhood book and theirs, and try to find something to take home

Rebecca Finbow

Former high school Geography Teacher, mum of 2 girls Evie (8) and Iris (5)

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