|Stock photo from morguefile.com|
In the three years of school gating (yes, I've made it a verb) and parent wine nights, my past life as a secondary school English teacher and my new life as a full time author and English GCSE / A-Level tutor, has repeatedly led to me being cornered and having the following desperate pleas whispered into my ear,
"How do you get your children to read?"
"How do you enforce the school reader without a meltdown?"
"How have you got your kids so interested in books?"
"Do you think my child needs a tutor to help them catch up? Do you tutor primary?"
It's at this point, I shuffle uncomfortably. You see, the image they have is that I sit with my children night after night, dutifully enforcing our 20minute recommended school reader before filling out the reading journal with detailed National Curriculum assessment speak. They imagine that my girls are subject to their own personal English tutor and therefore, no wonder they must be 'excelling' in their reading.
But all of those assumptions are rubbish; including the 'excelling' part - because after all how is it really measurable? (Despite incredibly complicated government matrixes that try to give the belief that it is.) The truth is, what I do to get and enforce my children to read is NOTHING.
In fact, we go for weeks and weeks and weeks without ever getting the school reader out of the school bag. The reading journal is filled in sporadically; perhaps an entry every three or so months: In fact we're still only on our second journal (when most others are on their fourth) and that's only because we lost one.
BUT THIS IS HOW WE HAVE NURTURED A LOVE OF BOOKS...
- We ignored the school's insistence on phonic decoding of sounds, and waited patiently for sight reading to flourish, knowing in our hearts that decoding is NOT reading. (There's a full blog post coming on this soon)
- We paid no attention to our daughter's reading level in Reception and Year 1 or Year 2 except to celebrate and encourage when she went up a level (because she'd been made to believe it mattered and we love a celebration in our house.)
- We reassured Rossetti repeatedly in her moments of tearful frustration that the reading would come and told her she mustn't force it. We told her to leave it and go and play for a while.
- We didn't over-correct her when she misread a word. We let her get to the end of the sentence and figure that out for herself; there was usually chocolate minstrels around or biscuits and hot-chocolate, because when you're starting to read, it takes a lot of energy.
- If she wanted to read her school reader and do a 'formal' reading session, we always made the time - even though I'd rather spoon out my own eyeballs.
- We take our children in to the bookshop at every opportunity - and when funds are tight, this means the FARA charity bookstore, where you can pick up a children's book for little more than a bar of chocolate or a soft drink. There's also the amazing facility of the library - but there is something about the total possession of a book that makes it even more special, especially if you want them to access their own home library on a whim.
- We allow them to choose free reign in the children's section, without interference, any book they take a fancy to, whether that is fiction, non-fiction, comic books, or in Rossetti's case, a science book. (The girl is crazy about science and apparently unicorns are "scientifically improbable!" - a hard thing for a fairy tale writing mummy to accept. )
- We constantly challenge comments about gendered books and give sadly required 'permission' for my daughters to select what they want to read rather than what they believe they 'should'.
- We provide huge book baskets for their rooms, which sit alongside their toy box - and when they get full, we get another. There is no notion of 'Too Many Books'.
- We fill our days with telling stories, writing them, and drawing them. We watch films and T.V and talk about characters, and allegory, and symbolism. We snigger naughtily at rude words and high five 'big' words - we value the idea of stories and why we need them in all forms.
- Our home is full of books and they see us reading in bed, on the bus, in the park, in the cafe - it's just what we do. It's now just what they do. How do you expect your child to see the value of reading when you don't model it yourself?