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How to get your child to engage with reading

All the mums at Muddy HQ are struggling with this at the mo: how to get our little darlings to step away from the darn screen and read more books. What to do? We asked an expert.

Alongside arguing about the merits of Love Island and moaning about the shonky office heating, one of the main topics of conversation at Muddy HQ right now is this: how do we get our children to read more? As tempting as it is, chucking the iPad in the bin isn’t a realistic answer. I have a house lined with book shelves, I review novels for a living and we virtually live in our public library but still my daughter refuses to engage. Reading for pleasure? No, thanks, mum. (I think I may have gone in too hard extolling the amazingness of literature, to be honest, and she’s doing it to annoy me.) So what to do? I sought advice from Anna Howard, Head of English, at Beachborough School, a bucolic rural co-ed prep school near Brackley with acclaimed academic and extra-curricular support (see the Muddy review here). Here’s what she had to say.

Why is is so hard to get kids reading?

The rise of the device! Screens provide exciting, instant, on-demand access, while reading is a slower burn reward, a delayed gratification. And more than ever children are so, so busy. They have a full day at school, then sports after school, then more sports and maybe tutoring at the weekend. Children often say that they don’t have any downtime and when they do, they won’t choose to read because it’s more of an effort to read than to watch a film or play a game.

How do you engage children with reading at Beachborough?

There are set reading times – 10 minutes of each English lesson are given over to pupils quietly reading. The children really enjoy it and it stimulates conversations about books – they’ll share recommendations, talk about their favourite characters and enthuse others.

How do you encourage the school’s boarders to read outside of lessons?

There is an expectation that children will read for pleasure before bed – maybe that’s something that harassed parents at home find harder to enforce! Younger boarders read aloud with staff whilst the older ones will snuggle down with a good book before lights go out.

What can parents do to encourage a love of books?

We need to model our behaviour. There’s been a decline in adult reading too – children are more likely to see adults on their phones than reading a book. Some children may only see their parents reading books once a year, on holiday. At Beachborough, we make sure the children see us reading – that sends an important message.

Should we be aiming to get our children to read for certain amount of time per day?

We say a minimum of 10-15 mins per day, 4 times a week – that’s in addition to reading in class. It’s so important for everyone to put their screens away, sit down and read. And, as parents, we need to provide these moments of time and space, otherwise they just won’t happen. We need to make sitting down to read with our children a priority.

Any other tips and tricks?

We’re big advocates of listening to audiobooks at Beachborough – they’re particularly useful for accessing wonderful classics like The Secret Garden where the old-fashioned language and syntax may put children off.  Audiobooks also great for children who find reading a little more challenging as, by listening, they become immersed stories and assimilate the language that way. Audiobooks are also a clever option for long car journeys. Don’t just plug in the headphones and watch a film but perhaps, as a family, listen to a book and turn it into a shared experience.

How do you feel about Kindles?

Positive –  it’s just another way to get children reading, isn’t it?. The Beachborough pupils can either read onpaper or on a device (they don’t have wi-fi access though). E-books aren’t prevalent yet, I’d say paperbacks arestill miles ahead in popularity.  Kindles are a device, so by default kids love them! The fact that they can change the size of the text to suit and they have in-built thesauruses and dictionaries are added bonuses.

Does it matter what children read?

No, I don’t think it matters at all really, reading for enjoyment is what’s important. The key is to have   a parentor teacher guiding their choices, and talking about their reading.

How much should we encourage children to experiment with genre?

Children can tend to get a bit stuck on one genre and read the same books again and again. We know, as adults, that when we join book clubs and have to read a title chosen by someone else, we’ll often think,‘Hmmm, not sure I’m going to like this’, but then invariably end up enjoying it. So it’s important to helpchildren to try different stories too.

Beachborough’s boarding house

Children really engage with authors, so a good way to enthuse them is to take them to children’s author events at literary festivals; visit independent book shops where the staff have good recommendations – they are often really knowledgeable and passionate – and take part in local libraries’ reading challenges during the school holidays.

Any book recommendations?

There’s a great website called lovereading4kids.co.uk which has “if you loved this, you might like that” style recommendations. Series – like Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider adventures – are always popular: the childrenjoin the characters on their journeys, the characters become friends and, sometimes, they even grow up together. Other current favourites among our Beachborough pupils are at the moment are: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell, Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis, and Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah.

What if you’ve got a really reluctant reader?

If you send a small child up to bed to read on their own, they’ll often pretend to read for 15 minutes which is pointless. So it’s vital to make it a shared experience – read together. You could always say, “I’ll read a page then you read a page.” For older children, why not discuss what they’ve read the next morning – and, if you know the book, you’ll know if they’ve read it!

Beachborough School, Westbury, Nr Buckingham, NN13 5LB. Tel: 01280 700071.

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