Reading with your child
Sharing a book with a child is fun! It's a time for closeness, laughing and talking together – and it can also give children a flying start in life and help them become lifelong readers.
If you’re not feeling confident about reading aloud or sharing books, don’t worry – there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy a story together, but here are a few pointers that may help.
Reading - useful website links
For young children:
Sharing picture books can be a lot of fun – but don’t worry if your child gets distracted or wanders off… that’s perfectly normal! Don’t worry either, if you don’t have a lot of time in your busy day – just a few minutes can make a huge difference.
Ask your child to choose what they’d like to read. They’ll feel more interested in the story if they’ve picked it themselves (and don’t worry if they keep returning to the same story)!
Turn off the television, radio and computer. It’s easier for both of you to enjoy the story without any other distractions.
Sit close together. You could encourage your child to hold the book themselves and turn the pages too.
Take a look at the pictures. You don’t just have to read the words on the page. Maybe there’s something funny in the pictures that you can giggle about together, or perhaps your child enjoys guessing what will happen next.
Ask questions and talk about the book. Picture books can be a great way to talk through your child’s fears and worries, or to help them deal with their emotions. Give them space to talk, and ask how they feel about the situations in the story.
Have fun! There’s no right or wrong way to share a story – as long as you and your child are having fun. Don’t be afraid to act out situations or use funny voices… your little ones will love it!
Encourage a love of reading
With lots of other activities competing for their time, encourage them to make time for reading.
Read yourself! It doesn’t matter what it is – pick up a newspaper or magazine, take a look at a cookery book, read a computer manual, enjoy some poetry or dive into a biography, science fiction or detective novel. Ask your children to join in – if you’re cooking, could they read the recipe? If you’re watching TV, can they read out the listings?
Give books as presents and encourage your children and their friends to swap books with each other – it’ll give them a chance to read new stories, and get them all talking about what they’re reading.
Visit the local library together. It’s always fun choosing new books to read, and keep an eye out for special author events at the library or local bookshops. Check out the websites of their favourite authors for example, Cressida Cowell, currently the Waterstones Children’s Laureate (2019 – 2022), Babette Cole, Julia Donaldson, Anne Fine, Jan Pienkowski, David Walliams, Tom Palmer, Emma Carroll, Jacqueline Wilson and Anthony Horowitz. There are some brilliant sites and they encourage children to read stories from the same author.
Encourage children to carry a book at all times. That way, they’ll never be bored (this is something you can do, too)!
Have a family bookshelf. If you can, have bookshelves in your children’s bedrooms too.
Keep reading together. Just because your children are older, it doesn’t mean you have to stop sharing stories – you could try the Harry Potter series or A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Don’t panic if your child reads the same book over and over again, it's great to have a favourite and at least they're reading something.
Non-fiction is a vital part of children’s reading experience. Reading non-fiction allows children to follow their interests and immerse themselves in the subjects they are interested in. It opens up new worlds, introducing them to ideas that will broaden their horizons and help them to make sense of the world.
And we live in a golden age of non-fiction at the moment. The modern web-connected world, where any conceivable fact is just an online search away, might have spelled the death of non-fiction. Instead, non-fiction has flourished.
A quick browse in any bookshop or library will reveal shelves of beautiful non-fiction texts, as attractive as they are fascinating.
At school and at home, non-fiction should be a key part of every child’s reading diet.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Non-fiction can help your child find their identity as a reader
For some of us, losing ourselves in a great novel is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But that isn’t for everyone. The reading of many adults consists principally of non-fiction texts: biographies, history books, the newspaper or websites that reflect their interests. Reading non-fiction helps children to form their own tastes and opinions. You don’t know what you like until you’ve tried it.
2. Non-fiction is great for children’s vocabulary
Reading non-fiction will introduce children to lots of new words. Some of this will be technical language linked to the subject they’re reading about – pirouette in a book about ballet, for example.
But even more useful are words that are less common in speech and fiction, but are useful for education – words like consistent, definition, indicate. Words like these are so useful for understanding the texts used at school, and non-fiction is often full of them.
3. Non-fiction helps children learn new language patterns
It’s not just new words that children can learn from non-fiction – the patterns of language themselves are often very different. For example, non-fiction tends to make greater use of the passive voice (it is thought that…, rather than I think that…). Reading these patterns of language can help children to absorb them and use them in their own writing, particularly in the more formal types of writing that are useful for school and beyond.
4. Non-fiction uses different skills to fiction reading
While we might pick up a non-fiction text and read it from cover to cover like a work of fiction, the chances are we’ll read it very differently. We might skim through, looking for something that catches our eye, or we might scan a page about a topic we know a lot about already, before slowing down to read about something new more carefully. We might use the glossary to look up the meaning of a new word or use the index to find a topic quickly.
These reading skills are taught and practised in classrooms all over the country, but reading non-fiction gives children a chance to practise them at home with books they enjoy. And, of course, these reading skills are useful at secondary school when researching for homework or finding information for an essay.
5. Non-fiction isn’t always about the reading
The benefits that children get from reading are well known. Academic research has suggested a link between reading in childhood and stronger reading skills, better school results in general, increased empathy for others, a larger vocabulary, increased happiness as a teenager… Being a reader is one of the most important things we can do for future success and happiness.
But while we’d love every child to be an avid reader, some children prefer to spend their time doing other things – drawing, sports, music, using screens or just playing with their toys. No matter how good our intentions, forcing children to read because it’s good for them could well backfire and make them even less keen to read. Non-fiction (both books and on screen) can be a secret weapon in the battle for reading: unlike a story book, children don’t always see non-fiction as proper reading.
When we’re finding out about something we’re interested in, the activity becomes about the topic we’re interested in, rather than reading itself. And time spent enjoying a fascinating non-fiction text might just be enough to kick-start the reading habit.
What if your child doesn't like reading?
Research shows that reading for pleasure can make a huge difference to children - not only academically (even in subjects like maths) but also socially and emotionally.
But what if your child doesn't enjoy reading? Whether they find it difficult or think it's boring, it's not always something young people are keen to do and it's interesting to know that even some authors were reluctant readers growing up...
But here are some things that could help...
Talk about books.
Talking to children about books and stories can help them to realise how exciting they are. Show an interest in what they've read, ask questions about it, and swap opinions.
Make it fun!
There are so many fun things you can do with books beyond reading them. You could ask your children to draw their favourite character or act out what they've read for you. Or perhaps you could try recreating some classic book covers and taking photos!
Try funny books.
Everyone likes a good giggle! (If your child is brave and depending on their age, scary stories might be worth a go too.)
Don't worry about what your children are reading.
Whether it's a short story, poetry, a graphic novel, non-fiction, joke books, a comic or even the back of a cereal packet, it doesn't matter what your child is reading - as long as they're enjoying it! Anything could kickstart a love of books (again don't panic if they read the same book over and over again).
Give them the chance to choose.
It's a great idea to give children the chance to choose what they read. Maybe you could take them to a bookshop and let them pick out something as a treat, or make regular library visits to help them figure out what they enjoy.
Enjoy books out loud!
Why not read part of a book to your child, then leave it with them to explore further on their own? Or take turns to read a page or a chapter. Children might enjoy listening to audiobooks, too – the combination of hearing the story out loud and holding the physical book could be a big help. Why not try listening to a story the next time you're in the car together? There are some excellent audio books, try this website for a range of titles https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/45631.best_audiobooks_for_kids
Find books related to their interests.
If your child is a gamer, why not try choose-your-own-adventure books, Minecraft guides or stories about virtual reality? If they like sport, you could try one of Kwame Alexander's verse novels or a biography of their favourite football player. If a book is about something they already love, it could be a brilliant way to get them hooked. Or perhaps their favourite film is based on a book - you could enjoy the story together and talk about how the movie and the original story are different.
Try series fiction.
If your child loved the first Harry Potter book, there are six more stories for them to dive into! There are some wonderful series out there that have converted reluctant readers into bookworms - you could try the Tom Gates books by Liz Pichon or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
READS TO REEL IN RELUCTANT READERS
We've put together a list of children's books that celebrate black lives and that explore black history both in the UK and around the globe.
Black Lives, Black History & Anti-Racism Books