A good book has the power to stay with you forever, and being able to read is a vital life skill that opens the doors to a world of fact and fiction. As parents and readers, we know how pleasurable and exciting reading can be. But for children learning to read is a long process, and one that's not always easy.
When to start
It's never too early to start reading with your child. "Reading with your baby encourages the progression of listening and commnication skills, both vital for their later reading development," says Stuart Wilkinson, Project Director at the National Literacy Trust. Between birth and the time your child starts school, she is in a stage of development called “emergent literacy.” At this stage, your child is learning the importance of text through seeing letters and words on signs, on screens and in the environment. The key to books at this early stage, though, is to make them fun. "The emphasis should always be on enjoyment," says Wikinson.
A parent's role
Sharing your passion for the written word is one way to encourage and interest in reading. "Research has shown that the home provides a rich learning environment to help a child develop a more positive aproach to the school reading experience," says Wilkinson.
However, not all children will embrace reading with the enthusiasm you might hope for. There are lots of reasons why your child might not be turned on by the idea of opening a book and it's something that can be frustrating and hard to understand. But patience is the key.
Offering books that are exciting and age-appropriate is a good start to engage a reluctant reader. But if your child is refusing to even turn the pages, you may need a different approach. "It's a misconception that children are only reading if they're reading fiction,” says Dr Elaine Millard, a senior lecturer in education at the University of Sheffield. “The Horrible Histories series of books are popular because they incoporate humour, parody and irreverence."
A reluctance to read can be a particular problem in boys. Research consistently shows boys' reading lags behind girls', with a recent report highlighting that three out of four (76 per cent) UK schools are concerned about boys’ underachievement in reading (last year an estimated 60,000 boys failed to reach the expected level in reading at age 11). Millard suggests starting with joke books and magzines that blend fact and fiction together. "If only a book with a joystick would appeal to your boy use it to your avantage," she says. Find books that build on the themes that boys are interested, even if your starting point is a computer game.
How to spot a problem
If your child is really struggling with reading, there may be a specific problem. Dyslexia is a learning impairment that affects the ability to read and comprehend words. One in ten of the population have dyslexia. When they are reading, a child with dyslexia may have problems blending letters together and they may miss out words, or add extra words. They may also be hesitant and laboured in reading, especially when reading aloud.
Meares-Irlen Syndrome is often confused with dyslexia. Children complain of letters falling off a page, or 'fizzing'. Laying a coloured, transparent sheet over text can make a huge improvement. For more information go to Irlen UK.