Do as I say, not what I do! – how to encourage kids to read.

20 09 2011

“Do as I say, not what I do” does not work when it comes to encouraging kids to read. If you NEVER read anything, how do you expect your own children to become avid book lovers?? Trying to get your kids to read from an early age should be something that not only you encourage, but also lead by example.

As a young girl, I can never remember my father without at least a book or newspaper – often both – in his hands. He encouraged my brother and I to visit the library each week, and we were given a free reign to choose any book to take home to read. He allowed us to select our favourite comics at the newsagent, and set up a regular home delivery each week, so that we did not miss out on our favourite stories or pop-world gossip.

From those early days, I recall my primary school headmaster also taking special interest in each child in our class. He would come into our classroom and chat with each child, to learn more about their interests in life. He would then disappear to the library and return with a selection of books, that he would encourage different children to read. I have him to thank for introducing me to The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis. From that moment I was hooked on reading and couldn’t find enough adventure, travel fantasy stories and later enjoyed all the detective stories by Agatha Christie.

By the time I reached high school I was required to read the books defined by the school education board: To Kill a Mocking Bird, To Sir with Love, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, Wuthering Heights and so on. I loved them all. I do recall being asked to read “Shane” and it was the first time I actually hated to read a book. Hard to recall why, but I remember my English teacher reflecting “perhaps it is a book for boys…”

By now, I was reading a wider scope of books from historical fiction, to love stories, adventure and spy and crime thrillers. The books I loved the most were the one’s that created many twists and turns and also offered adventure away from England!

What made them magical was the ability to close your eyes and imagine the face of the heroine. I found that if a book I had read was turned into a movie or television show, it ruined the experience if one re-read the book – all the magic was taken away as you could then draw on film images and ignore your own imagination.

That’s why I believe the experience to allow people to develop and come up with their own ideas when reading is so important. For those reluctant readers in our high school class, I recall one year we had a student teacher visit who arrived with some new ideas. This may amuse those younger readers, but I recall this student teacher bringing in a stack of 45 rpm records and playing David Bowie and other current music of the mid 1970’s to the class. We had to listen to the song, study the lyrics and then write an essay on what we thought the singer or songwriter was trying to say! It was a lot of fun and a new approach to getting kids to read, listen and provide review and feedback. That interaction was so important as it helped turn around some kids who had turned their back on reading.

That’s why I was so keen that I would follow my father’s example and ensure my kids took up his love – to read books. As soon as they could hold anything, I thrust black and white board books into their hands. I followed this up with the full range of wonderful look and feel books that exist, and ensured that they were read to each night. Now to my delight, they love books as much as my husband and I and of course, their Grandad.

A love of reading is one of the greatest gifts you can give to any child – take a moment to determine how you can pass on this wonderful gift to children in your life.

For more viewpoints on how to get kids to read visit SandraArthurBooks.com

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