Why is it Important to Read and Tell Stories?

As a primary teacher and mother of four, Rachel offers some advice on how to support your child's reading.


Reading matters

Reading is a subject I am passionate about: I worked as a full-time primary school teacher, am a mother of four children and have spent the last eighteen years delivering seminars to tens of thousands of working parents on the subject of how they can support their children's reading.

In all my experience and research, one very powerful thing I read always sticks out in my mind. A study back in 2002 covering 31 countries concluded that 'Being more enthusiastic about reading and a frequent reader was more of an advantage, on its own, than having well-educated parents in good jobs.' Children from deprived backgrounds performed better in tests if they enjoyed reading, than those from more affluent families.

Parents are a child's first and most important teacher and play a vital role in motivating their child and trying to instil a love of reading.

75% of brain development occurs in the first two years of life and reading aloud to children from birth has enormous benefit. It introduces babies to the structure and rhythm of language, forming the building blocks for reading and writing. This early experience will shape their future social, communication and learning skills. As they move to the toddler years and beyond, reading helps to develop their vocabulary, listening skills, concentration, stimulates their imagination, exposes them to new situations and supports their emotional development.

From around the age of seven upwards, reading is the key to gaining knowledge and enables children to access all areas of the school curriculum. It plays a vital role in children's social and intellectual development, teaching compassion, sensitivity and how to make judgements.

How do we encourage a child to read for pleasure?

Most young children enjoy being read aloud to by an adult and the majority will learn to read independently at primary school. Although many children can read they are not all 'readers'. There are hundreds of other things they would rather be doing, usually involving some form of screen.

Here are a number of key tips to establish the habit of reading and encourage your child to read for pleasure:

  1. The absolute key is finding 'The Right Book'. Every time your child experiences reading something boring, too challenging or too easy they will be put off. I have witnessed my own children's attitude to reading simply transformed by the experience of reading one book they really enjoy. They need that feeling of not being able to put a book down and once they have found one, they may get into a whole series or genre and then the habit of reading becomes established. Finding that right book takes time. It may involve going to a specialist bookshop, speaking to the class teacher or your child's peers, reading online reviews etc.
  2. Reading does not always have to involve a book: it should be an integral part of everyday life. It may be newspapers, magazines, comics, magic tricks, instructions to a game, road signs, TV guide or the back of a cereal packet. Just ensure that they have access to a full range of genres and if possible equal amounts of fiction and non- fiction.
  3. Parents act as a role model for their children. Make sure they see you reading regularly, this is particularly relevant for fathers and sons. Make a 'family reading time' at the weekend where everyone sits together and reads their own thing.
  4. Read aloud to your children even if they are confident, independent readers. Nearly everyone enjoys being read to from babies through to the elderly. With older children, it gives you an opportunity to discuss what they are reading and ensure that their comprehension is solid.
  5. Make time for reading. Don't overload your children with too many activities. By the time they have been to after-school clubs, had dinner, a bath, music practice, completed their homework, a bit of downtime etc they fall into bed exhausted and have very little time to read.

Ten minutes a night doesn't really allow you to 'get into' a book. Longer periods of uninterrupted time such as weekends or school holidays are a more productive time for reading. One trick is to say lights out unless you are reading!

Rachel, Education Specialist, Educating Matters