Children's success in school and in learning absolutely relies on reading.
Written text is still the most widely used method for distributing information, and children's ability to decode, comprehend and critically analyse written text is key to their ability to achieve in every subject area. The difficulty is that some children's lack of interest and pleasure in reading is closing the door to a world of information and imagination that they could be experiencing.
Last weekend I went to the library and searched through the shelves for stories that I thought would appeal to my 3-4 year olds. I read a very simple book called 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea' for three little boys, who sat with their hands on my knees and eyes glued to the pages. When one of boys' mums arrived he jumped up and said, "Mummy, there's a tiger who came to tea and ate all the food and drank all the drink". He ran back and sat down to listen to the rest of the story.
I was surprised by the boys' level of engagement with this story and it brought home to me how important it is to choose texts for children that are right for their age and interests. This story captured the boys' imagination. It was enjoyed for its own sake and purely for pleasure. If reading is not pleasureable children will be turned off. Studies show that engagement trumps socio-economic background and home influences when it comes to children's involvement in reading.
We had a discussion yesterday in our tute group about books that we'd enjoyed as a child. It brought back memories of a time when we were never without a book in our hands, and made me aware of how much of who I am now was shaped by the books that I read and re-read as a child and teenager. I also know that my skills with language are a direct result of my having absorbed huge quantities of well-written children's literature over the years.
Children love being read to by adults, but when choosing books to read to children we should be aware of two things. Sometimes children need to have their lives reflected back at them through stories which help them to understand their worlds and have their experiences validated, but sometimes the world is too serious and children need to escape and be taken to other worlds. Imagination and the ability to create is becoming increasingly important in our rapidly changing world.
If we want children to love reading we have to read to children, purely for enjoyment. We have to be aware that as they grow older children will need to have a strong grounding in the technical skills required for reading so that they will continue to engage. We have to give them choice and we have to give them time to read. We also have to remember not to turn every reading experience into an opportunity for a learning activity. Children will anticipate this and it will affect their ability to relax and enjoy the story. Lots to think about...