Reading is, without doubt, the most important linguistic skill that needs to be developed in young children. Reading serves as a building block upon which all other learning takes place. Reading can also be fun. By developing a love for reading in young children, we will be giving them one of the greatest gifts of life, namely, life-long learning.
Importance of reading to/with children
Parents [those who are literate] must read to children form when they are small, even before they can talk. Parents talk and sing to babies, and that is how they learn to talk. Reading to them is part of this process.
If parents read to children daily, even after they have learnt to read themselves, they associate reading and books with closeness, caring and happiness. They develop a love for books that is likely to last throughout life. They also learn how a book works and how it is handled. This gives them a head start when they go to school.
Parents or caregivers who cannot read should tell their children stories and let the children look at picture books and make up their own stories. Listening to stories, whether they are read or told, is enjoyable and creates an appetite for more stories, which encourages children to learn to read.
It is just as important that crèches and pre-schools should read, tell stories and allow children to become familiar with books.
When children have learnt to read, every household should have at least half an hour reading time in the evening where everybody in the home, including the adults, read for pleasure. The example set by the adults is very important. Show your children how much you love to read by reading in front of them often. This is just as important as homework or household tasks.
Tips for using reading time effectively
- Do not skip this time: Those children who are read to daily are a year ahead of those who are read to less frequently.
- Choose the right time: Find a time that is suitable for everyone; when neither you nor the kids are too tired.
- Sit side by side with your child: Not only will you be able to check that the words are read out correctly but you can also use it as a bonding session with your children without distractions.
- Discuss what was read: This helps you ensure that the children actually understood what they were reading.
Setting out time for reading each day might not be easy but it is crucial in cultivating a culture of reading in children. It not only allows parents and caregivers to plan their day more effectively but also helps the child to think of reading as a normal scheduled daily activity.
Access to books is essential for learning. The vital role that informational books, textbooks, non-fiction books and reference books play in the acquisition of learning is unquestionable. However using books to access information for formal learning is only one of the many uses of books.
Reading materials can be any suitable written matter – newspaper or magazine articles (if suitable for the age level), library books including storybooks and non-fiction or comics. Even during exams learners need this period of relaxation.
- Picture books, including concept books that teach the alphabet or counting for example, pattern books, and wordless books.
- Traditional literature, including folktales, which convey the legends, customs, superstitions, and beliefs of people in previous civilizations. This genre can be further broken into subgenres: myths, fables, legends, and fairy tales
- Fiction, including fantasy, realistic fiction, and historical fiction
- Non-fiction, including Biography and autobiography
- Poetry and verse.
- Picture books, appropriate for pre-readers or children ages 0–5.
- Early reader books, appropriate for children ages 5–7. These books are often designed to help a child build his or her reading skills.
- Chapter books, appropriate for children ages 7–12.
- Short chapter books, appropriate for children ages 7–9.
- Longer chapter books, appropriate for children ages 9–12.
- Young-adult fiction, appropriate for children ages 12–18.
Allow your children to choose some of the books they will read. Being actively involved in the selection process will add to the fun of reading.
Parents and caregivers should try to ensure, if at all possible, that there is a quiet, comfortable place dedicated to reading in the home. Below are some ideas on how you should set up a reading area in your home.
- Location: Put books your children enjoy in one place where they can be easily reached.
- Space: Provide enough space for your children to invite guests to join them.
- Light: Set up your reading space in a well-lit room.
- Book storage: You can use book shelves, baskets or boxes to store the books.
- Comfort: Create a comfortable and cosy space for your children. Allow them to read in bed; this increases the amount they read.
- Quiet: Try to set up the reading space in a quiet part of the house to help your children focus on the books they are reading.
- Rotation: As your child’s reading skills improve, add more challenging books to the collection.
A reading space should be a place where a love of reading is cultivated; try to make it inviting to your children as much as possible.
Books as gifts
Books can be the best of gifts – and yet often parents choose games or gadgets over books for their children. To own a book is to own a life-long treasure, a source of knowledge and wisdom, something that can take us away from the cares of the world for a while at least, a source of inspiration or encouragement.
Many children in South Africa come from a largely oral culture in which the reading and ownership of books is not common and this is especially the case for children who come from disadvantaged communities. This predisposes these children to not getting off to a good start with literacy development. Putting books in children’s hands is to help them to realize that reading can be enjoyable and something they will want to do on their own. We need to not only teach children to read but to be avid and lifelong readers.
The DBE is therefore encouraging parents and caregivers to buy books as gifts to their children to show that books are valuable and also give books as tokens of rewards for any acceptable conduct. This will assist the system greatly, as children will know the worth that books carry and will therefore continue to treasure them even at school.
If at all possible, parents should join and make use of the public library and assist their children to join the library, visit it and borrow books. This can happen even before they go to school. Public libraries often have enjoyable activities for children that further promote reading. If the school has a library, parents should encourage their children to make use of it and borrow books to read at home.
Encouraging your child to read and making it pleasant to read is probably the most valuable thing a parent can do to help a child with school and in life.