Do I make my children read? That’s a question that I have been asked this week.
And what if I do? Is reading really so bad? Is that so very cruel of me?
As it happens, the answer is ‘no’, I don’t ‘make’ my children read.
Children that read are at an advantage at school, in life. Reading improves vocabulary, spelling and writing skills. It fuels imaginations, it improves concentration, it boosts memory, it increases empathy and it is a way to reduce stress and anxiety. All of these gains, with something that is fun, something that is magical.
I want my kids to read and to love to read for all of these reasons. I am encouraging them to read to give them these advantages. But honestly, the main reason is simply for the pleasure of reading in itself.
Reading in our house is not seen as an ‘educational activity’ or ‘homework’, though of course it’s often both. Reading is what we do, just as we watch TV, listen to music and play. Reading does not live in a separate box to all other normal daily activities. Reading is not a chore, it is not a ‘must-do’, it’s an enjoyable part of life.
I read, a lot. My kids know this, they see me read. They see my happiness when we’re in a bookshop, they see me always seeking out the book aisle in the supermarket, the second hand book store on a National Trust day out and they see my constantly full Amazon basket, so many books so little time. I always have a book on the go, and it’s often close to hand around the house. Though not a bookworm like myself, the Husband does also read and he reads every night. The kids might not see this, but they know it. They know that all of us read every day, so it’s totally normal for them to do so, too.
My kids are both at different stages with their reading, as you’d expect. Boo is in Year 4, nearly 9 now, and is a very competent and confident reader. Little Man has just started in Year 1 and turned 6 years old last week. He is ahead of expected standards for his age and is at that wonderful stage where he surprises me with how much he can read now.
Every night there are bedtime stories. My two have had bedtime stories since they were 6 weeks old, so this is an ingrained part of their evening routine, none of us can really imagine not doing it. Of course my daughter is more than capable of reading her own story, but that kind of misses the point. There is something special about taking the time to curl up together with a book before bed, and it’s a chance for her to read to me from time to time as well as the benefits to her of being read to. We sometimes chat about the book and sometimes we just chat about her day. After this, she reads to herself for half an hour or so before lights out. She’ll often also grab her book and read during the day if it’s one that she’s really enjoying.
It’s similar with Little Man, though he’s very much in the stages of still learning to read. He is learning to decode and read the words, using all of the skills that he is being taught at school. But having grown up with stories every single day, he doesn’t need to learn about the magic of books, the enjoyment of stories, the cadences when being read to, the interpretations of the pictures he sees, the vocabulary of the language that he is learning to read for himself. He brings to the classroom years of story-times. He, too, likes to read his own story at times, showing me what he can do, then at other times he likes to cuddle up and listen. He then likes to read in the mornings over the weekend, and it can be anything from Supertato to Harry Potter.
We have a home filled with books. We have shopping trips to buy books. We have visits to the library to choose books. The kids get excited selecting new books. My daughter knows the books that she likes to read, having developed reading tastes of her own over the years. She’s always happy to try new authors and genres, so she’s always discovering more. She can’t get enough of the diary type reads, like the Wimpy Kid, Tom Gates and Dork Diaries. She loves animal stories, adventures and funny books. My son is still finding his way. He moves between picture books and chapter books depending on his mood. He loves his Marvel and Star Wars stories, and then adores the Claude books, Horrid Henry and Captain Underpants. Both of them have a lot of books, a lot. I have no ability to say no when they want books, I want to encourage them to try as many as they want. So far they both love books, but if at any point that wanes, then we will look for different authors, genres, types of material. If my girl moves to comics only, then fine. If my boy moves to reference books only, then fine. I’ll roll with their tastes and preferences and be here to encourage them to try more, as as long as they are reading, they are developing so much.
So to return to the question then. I sometimes think that an answer can be found in the question itself. If someone suggests that kids are ‘made to read’ maybe there’s an implication that reading is a task. That reading is just another thing on top of a pile of homework or a chore list. It’s not, nor should it be. And if that message is being passed onto kids from parents, consciously or not, then maybe that’s the problem. Reading is an adventure, reading is a gift, reading should be a normal part of everyone’s day. And if you’re not sure why or remain unconvinced, perhaps take a look at my 12 Reasons to Pick Up a Book Right Now , there are so many reasons to read.
What do you think? Do you make your children read?