The Eighth Day of Blogmas - reading with children
I've been reading a few different opinion pieces recently about reading with children, and since it is one of my own favourite things to do, I thought I'd share my thoughts.
I have three children of my own, my daughter is ten and my sons are eight and four. I'm really lucky, in that they are all really bright and they all enjoy reading to some extent. My daughter, El, is a really enthusiastic reader and has been for some time, while her brothers are starting to get into it too.
I don't live with them and often only see them once a week, but I started reading with them again last year. Their school is really keen to push reading at home and the older two have reading journals to complete, so this was a way to help them meet these commitments.
Honestly, it was a bit of a drag. My time with them was already limited and reading took a chunk of that up. My son was bringing various reading scheme books from school, and although he seemed to enjoy them, I just found them quite strange. They were about a group of school children who could shrink and go on adventures, and sometimes went to space though I still don't know why. As my daughter became a stronger reader she'd bring books she'd been reading, and I'd get to hear her read a chapter or two of a story, and then the next week a totally different chapter or a different story altogether.
I felt like I was doing my duty as a parent, and that was about it.
But they were reading. That was the most important thing. And what's more, they were enjoying it. My daughter collected loads of Fairy Magic books and loved reading them. My son, L, enjoyed his reading scheme books and the adventures made sense to him. And I'd read stories to my youngest, R, just like I'd read stories to his brother and sister when they were little.
So many people try to push their children to read what they think they should be reading. I don't agree with that. It doesn't matter if they like reading Rainbow Fairy Magic or picture books or whatever. As long as they are reading, you are winning. (Though obviously you should be aware of any difficult issues their reading material might raise.) Reading with them is also an excellent way of helping them to understand difficult concepts and to discuss any issues raised in their books.
It pays off too. For all that talk of letting them read what they like, I have actually directed their reading a bit over the last few months. In the summer I met the lovely author, Robin Stevens, and I bought El a couple of her books, signed, for her birthday. We're currently reading the first Murder Most Unladylike book and we are both absolutely loving it. We read it together every time we can. She reads some to me, and then I give her a break and read some to her. We discuss who we think might have murdered Miss Bell, we talk about the racism Hazel Wong sometimes faces, I do my best to explain the references to things like Elgar and Pre-Raphaelite art, and we plan our next bunbreak.
A few weeks ago I tried a similar experiment with L. Aimee recommended Abi Elphinstone (she does that sometimes!) and then after we'd discussed it a bit she recommended I started with Winter Magic, a collection of short stories curated by Abi. We're loving it so far. Like with his sister, we take it in turns to read to each other, because the stories are a lot denser than the books he's read before, but each short story feels like an achievable target over a couple of evenings or an afternoon and it's introducing us to a lot of different authors.
That can be another very helpful thing - a sense of continuity and familiarity. El now goes into bookshops and goes straight to look at the Robin Stevens books, planning out what she'll be reading for the next year or so. L and I will have eleven different authors to explore after Winter Magic, all of whom he'll be familiar with.
Reading with them has gone from feeling like a chore to being one of my favourite pastimes and it's a really important bonding exercise.
Oh, and R has started reading Funny Bones now too.
So in conclusion, I think my message there got a bit turned around. Give them the freedom to read what they like, but as they become stronger readers help them to find books that will excite and interest them. Support, encourage and share their reading, and they'll soon be off into all kinds of worlds of adventure!