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How to Encourage Reading | 6 Tips to Fire up a Reluctant Reader

Famous children’s author, Dr Seuss, once wrote: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more things that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr Seuss’ poetic insight into the critical development of a child’s early literacy skills has stood the test of time. With literacy pivotal to all learning and intrinsically linked to high academic achievement, it is a critical foundational skill for our youngest learners to harness to support them throughout their years of education. But what if your child is a reluctant reader?

1. Read aloud to your child

Reading to your child every day, from birth through to the school years, will have a profound effect on their language development and oral comprehension. It will also help to develop a life-long daily habit of reading from a very early stage.

Singing songs, saying nursery rhymes and simply talking about the pictures in books are also strategies to help your child become immersed in language which in turn will help enrich their vocabulary and early reading skills.

Choosing books appropriate to age and stage and relevant to your child’s interests can help engage reluctant readers. When books are too challenging for a student we see them struggle or disengage which impairs both their fluency and comprehension development.

2. Model regular reading habits

how to encourage reading

We know that reading matters and developing a daily habit of reading is proven to have significant impact on student attainment and life-long learning. Parents can support this through encouraging and modelling reading so that their children will establish a life-long love of reading.

3. Develop phonological awareness

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise that words are made up of a variety of sound units, for example, syllables, rhyme and sounds, or phonemes.

These phonological skills, or skills that enable students to begin to discriminate sounds in words, provides the foundation to get children reading and spelling.

According to Stanovich (1986, 1994): Phonemic awareness is the most potent predictor of success in learning to read. It is more highly related to reading than test of general intelligence, reading readiness, and listening comprehension.

In the classroom from Prep, St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School teaches children to read and spell by teaching them 44 sounds, or phonemes, and how to blend and segment them, essentially providing them with an alphabetic code to get them reading and spelling.

The difference is in the approach. Teachers don’t ask students to analyse a whole word, its sound and its context as an early reading strategy, but instead empower students with the ability to decode any word by applying phonics knowledge and synthesising words. They also practise eight sounds at once rather than just one, increasing the speed at which they develop their reading and writing skills.  Opportunities to master each sound and its corresponding letters (remembering that we have 44 sounds in standard Australian English and over 200 ways to represent those sounds) requires not only explicit instruction, it also requires intentional and repeated practice to master this knowledge and apply it to reading and spelling automatically. In doing so, we free up working memory to make space for the higher order skill of comprehending what is read.

Parents can support their child’s phonological awareness development through activities at home.

4. Word awareness activities

how to encourage reading

Word awareness activities are effective strategies to help children identify words and build a rich vocabulary. Games such as making word pairs (cat – dog, boy – girl – big little) can help develop a reluctant reader’s early literacy skills without the need to pick up a book or sit and read.

5. Rhyme activities

Rhyming helps children to discriminate sound units in words. Rhyme activities can be an effective way to develop early literacy skills in reluctant readers. Saying Mother Goose nursery rhymes or playing games such as I Spy (for example, ‘I spy something that rhymes with gable (table)’) are fun and pressure free strategies to help parents support their child’s early reading skills.

Other useful activities including giving three words and helping your child to identify which one doesn’t rhyme. For example, burn, ripe, turn. Alternatively, give words and ask your child if they rhyme; bed-fed, hand-sand, girl- giant.

6. Syllable activities

Clap or jump the syllables in a word with your reluctant reader. They’ll be developing their early reading skills and won’t even know it!

Whether your child is a bookworm or not, there are certainly many ways in which parents can support early literacy development and help encourage a love of reading.

7. Create a Book Advent Calendar for Christmas

When Christmas is getting close and you want to continue your child’s love of books, why not create a book advent calendar. We love this ‘how to’ and think you will too!

Angela Drysdale
Head of Primary
St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School

Literacy Resources Inc 2013, ‘Phonemic Awareness Research’, viewed 10 December 2017, https://www.literacyresourcesinc.com/research

This article was published in Issue 26 of our print magazine, February/March 2018.

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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