So why go through the battle of encouraging your very busy child to settle for a book?
It’s a brilliant tool for expanding their vocabulary and for developing sentence structure (verbally at first and then transitions into writing skills)
It can provide clear, informative explanations to expand the child’s subject knowledge and can be revisited for clarity or taken in bitesize chunks if it’s overwhelming - like our current topic of conversation at home, puberty and where babies come from… what a relief there are books to guide us through this particular stage!
Deepens understanding of social skills - the actions and relationships of characters. Often quite enlightening for us as adults, we often assume kids know more about this than they actually do…or is that just our kids?
It’s a really fun hobby that lasts forever!
As a parent and teacher, I know how extremely difficult some children can find settling to do any calm activity, especially if it’s a task they haven’t chosen to do!
Reading homework (yes that includes picture books), definitely falls into that category!
Below are some methods I have used over the years to encourage a positive reading experience. At first, the new way will be exciting so you may have to try it more than once before knowing whether that way suits your child’s needs.
Warning…one method may be perfect for a while but be prepared to refer to this list again later if they need a change! Some children love to keep us on our toes!
Try your child reading at the dinner table - standing up suits some whereas others may prefer to sit on their chair at the table or on your lap.
The sensory feedback from leaning on the table can help your child feel more settled and confident.
An Occupational Therapist gave me a great tip when we were struggling with an extremely fidgety child at mealtimes - make sure the child’s feet are grounded. The child was sitting on a chair too high so their legs were dangling. They were constantly moving to get sensory feedback as to where their body was in the space. We fitted a foot shelf on the high chair and it was an instant improvement!
Go for some exercise (a scoot, the play park, a walk) and half way into the session, share their book.
Your child will feel physically relaxed so try not to give them a snack (we all know the effect food has) but if you do need to, then make it a savoury one or give it to them earlier on in their exercise.
After the reading session, some kids will have ‘fizzed up’ again - like a shaken bottle of pop with the lid still on - so get them to continue their exercising to release that pent up energy before you get home.
We had an egg chair, it was hard for the adult to see the book easily (not enough room for an adult to sit in as well) but our one son felt more confident in it so would actually stop to ask us a word he got stuck on. This was a breakthrough for him, previously he’d race over any tricky bit in the hope we wouldn’t notice!
Piling cushions up in a corner, sitting in a bean bag or creating a duvet den can all work well too.
The child should choose which of their toys they would like to play with, then tell them (or draw/write on a piece of paper) that it’s reading, then they can play with that toy.
Many children take security in knowing when an activity will end and what comes next (a suggestion from a Speech and Language Therapist). Sounds too obvious, but she actually pointed out that some children won’t have understood there is even an end to the task! I have to admit I was very sceptical about that. Surely the child realizes we’re not going to be reading forever…hmm, apparently not!
Immediately after having shown the plan for ‘this then that’ the child’s eyes nearly popped out with excitement and he told me to ‘then cross out’!
Okay so I had assumed incorrectly, plus had to make it even more explicit when the task was over.
Join the child for play immediately before the reading and let them have the control during the play. Ask them how they want you to play with their toy or game.
They’ll love having a bit of control over you and it means they’ll more happily relinquish a bit of control for the reading session in return. Winner!
A training course I went on (‘From Timid to Tiger: how to parent the anxious child’) emphasizes the huge value of parents spending just 10 minutes a day, everyday, to join in a special play led by the child. It emphasized how this undivided attention really does boost the child’s self esteem and confidence. My teaching experience has repeatedly shown me the power of a confident child and how, if they believe they can do something, they really will put their all into it.
Ask the child to pick someone to read to on a video call. Let the chosen person know in advance to get a cuppa ready to sit and listen! Cheeky ad coming up for my hubby’s creation - give them even more of an incentive and more interaction afterwards, by playing an online game of 4 in a row or noughts and crosses on the video call using the free **Games with Gran - classic games with built in super simple video calling.
The adult could model reading a section then let the child read the (same or next) section.
Re-reading is a great confidence booster - children’s memories are so good they’ll be able to read it more fluently after watching you, plus the child is learning to memorize the words and copy intonation, a great use of reading skills!
If it’s a picture book, the adult should chat about the pages then encourage the child to talk about the same pages (hopefully they’ll use some of the same words the adult used).
Whether your child is only just beginning to experience books or is an independent reader, they are sure to love being read to. Young children thoroughly enjoy listening to puppets or their favourite teddies telling them stories so be brave and prepare to entertain - children are normally a very easy crowd to win over!
Young children’s concentration levels will be short. Try to end the reading sessions on a positive note, stop if he/she has been engaged but you think it won’t last much longer.
Audio books, BBC Bedtime Stories, an older sibling…everyone reads in a slightly different way and can capture the imagination or interest of a child ready to sink into a really good book.
Many parents find their child is more settled to read in the evening - they are fed, their energy levels are diminishing and their soft pjs feel snug against their skin. However, some children prefer to get their homework done early on so they have time to play and wind down afterwards.
I suggest trying a few different timings for a while and then select a favourite one with your child if possible. Keep this timing as part of the daily routine. There are no surprises then and eventually your child will accept it as part of the day, enough to lift their defenses and open their eyes to the world of books.
If our kids are tired, we often use a stopwatch/sand timer to show we only expect ‘x’ minutes of homework reading tonight because they’ve had a particularly busy school day. Some children will prefer to complete a section/whole book before stopping so go with that instead if it works.
Discuss the plan with your bouncy child in advance so they can begin preparing themselves to settle. Keep to the plan (even if it means the session needs to be a little shorter one day because something else comes up).
Remember if you have a child who likes to take control, then participate in some child-led play immediately before the reading session so they are more willing to be led by you after.
And most importantly, show excitement and interest in your child’s reading (even if it sounds fake to you); pretend they have taught you something if possible - they can be quite gullible!
Focus on making the session a positive, fun reading experience that they want to repeat.
Enjoy watching your little one develop into an avid reader!