During the past two months there's been a flurry of negative reports about primary school tests, from parents keeping their children off school in protest, to headteachers considering resignation following the SATS results. Meanwhile, children are stuck in the middle and can become confused and stressed over the pressure of revision and exam results.
We believe its important parents don't focus so much on tests that they forget to encourage their children to enjoy the simple pleasures, like reading a book. Evidence shows that children who enjoy reading are likely to be happier, healthier and more resilient than those who don't, and that has to be as important as test results. And reading is important even before children start school - again, the evidence shows that children of all backgrounds who are read to regularly by their parents at age five perform better in vocabulary, spelling and maths at age 16 than those who were not read to.
Even the process of reading a book can be very helpful in transporting young minds in times of stress. The fact that children who enjoy reading are also more likely to do well in exams is a nice bonus. So, rather than having children worry about exam results we should spend more time helping them enjoy reading, which will help them to develop into curious and confident adults.
But it isn't easy, especially nowadays when there are so many other activities competing for children's time. So how can we encourage our children to love reading, even when the Xbox or PlayStation is calling?
Here are some ideas:
• Try reading yourself. It's so easy to preach at children, but they're much more likely to watch and copy. It doesn't matter if it's the newspaper, a cookery book, a romantic novel or a magazine - just make sure they see how much you're enjoying it. Digital reading doesn't work so well here, as they might assume you're playing a video game rather than reading War and Peace...
• Keep reading together. Shared reading means shared conversation and helps support children as they tackle new books and concepts. There are lots of books that both adults and young people can enjoy. Try The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, the Harry Potter series, or I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.
• Read books you can all talk about but don't be tempted to test their comprehension. Instead ask an open question about something you've read about and see where the conversation goes
• Visit the local library together on a regular basis, and enjoy spending time choosing new books. Show your child that there's a treasure chest of books, and let them pick a book themselves - no one likes being told what to read
• Take books with you when you travel. Yes, an iPad is easier, but children love being read to on the train.
• See if a favourite author is visiting a local library or bookshop. It'll bring the books alive, and demonstrate how many other kids love books - Jacqueline Wilson and Anthony Horowitz always have signing queues that are miles long!
• Encourage your children and their friends to swap books with each other and, when they're old enough, do some swapping yourself. You might be amazed at how thrilling some YA fiction is...
BookTrust is the largest reading charity in the UK. We work to inspire a love of reading in children because we know that reading can transform lives. Funded by the Arts Council, corporate supporters and individual donations, we give out over five million carefully chosen books to children throughout the UK; every parent receives a BookTrust book in their baby's first six months. Our books, guidance and resources are delivered via health, library, schools and early years practitioners, and are supported with advice and resources to encourage the reading habit. Reading for pleasure has a dramatic impact on educational outcomes, well-being and social mobility, and is also a huge pleasure in itself. We are committed to starting children on their reading journey and supporting them throughout. www.booktrust.org.uk
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