There’s a lot of nonsense talking about teaching reading. Of course children, with the help of parents and teachers, need to learn to decode the squiggles on the page.
But phonics, “tricky words” and toiling through boring little books for homework- familiar to every parent of a Key Stage One Child – are the beginning of the process not the end.
It’s what comes next which matters. And too often the education system fails to unlock the reader who lives in every child – and that’s where parents can help.
Once Max or Mabel has cracked the code then it’s time for him or her to learn to read read. Really read. And it’s something every every parent can support.
Somehow we have to lead these children from careful translation of code into language to an effortless world of imagination, pictures and ideas. They need to be strong swimmers in the reading pool.
Deep end readers can explore unfamiliar times, places and people. So how do we get their feet off the bottom?
First, at that crucial tip-over point from decoding to reading let them gobble up as many easy books as they wish. Just give them their heads so that they forge on and stop subvocalising (reading aloud in their heads.)
Confident readers see print and translate it into images and ideas instantly so they don’t (usually) need to articulate the words either mentally or aloud. Subvocalisers are always slow, and often reluctant, readers. You want to move your child on from that as soon as possible.
Second, take a real interest in what your children are reading. Read lots of children’s books yourself so you can discuss them with Freya or Felix and make recommendations.
Third, always let your child choose their own books and never “rubbish” their choices. The only way you learn to distinguish good writing from bad, or to work out what sort of things you personally prefer, is by reading eclectically. Don’t rely on the limited suggestions made by some teachers either. There are many thousands of books out there to choose from. Use the public library.
Fourth, limit access to distractions such as TV, computers or tablets although a basic electronic reader such as Kindle can be useful when you’re trying to encourage Yasmin or Freddie to read. You can carry a whole library of books in your pocket on a Kindle-type device.
Fifth, never underestimate the importance of example. Children need to see adults – at home and at school – engrossed in books. Give them the message that reading is a vital, enjoyable, compulsive part of adult life.
If you give the impression that you are too busy for books then the child is conditioned to think that reading is a childish thing to be given up as soon as possible.
Teachers who, for example, do marking while their pupils are reading silently in class should be dismissed. Every primary and secondary English classroom should have blocks of time when everyone – and I mean everyone – opens a book and climbs into it.
Lastly, share the sheer excitement of the printed word with children and do it with exuberance. Why do think every chapter of every English textbook I’ve ever written is based on one or more pieces of writing? And the criteria for choosing these extracts? They are all passages I love and I’m not afraid to let my enthusiasm show.