Living in South Africa where many children are still struggling with reading and a poor level of education, the problem of literacy in my home country affects me deeply as an author. Around one fifth of the population of 48-million people are still illiterate.
As all parents know, books, reading, and comprehension skills are paramount in the development of their child’s learning abilities and imagination, and indeed to life learning and understanding of the world. But you know all that … so, how does one change a non-reader into an avid reader? Don't leave it up to school and the teachers. Literacy is so important that it is every parent's duty to make sure their child reads and (hopefully) enjoys it.
There may be a number of reasons why your child isn’t keen on reading. If you’ve ruled out physiological problems with eyes and attention span, then it could just be your child perceives books as ‘boring’ and reading a chore. How do you change this?
• Capture the imagination of your child. You’ve seen how a child will sit for hours working out a game or puzzle that intrigues them. Excitement and interest are the keys to getting your child into those bookshelves. Take a look at what makes them light up, what makes them talk excitedly. You want to hold their attention, sustain their interest, and create a hunger for more and more books!
• Children follow by example so if you’re a reader, now make a point of your child seeing you read—except read (with avid interest) something you’d like them to read. Don’t put the television on as a matter of course. Rather sit with a book so they become curious as to what could possibly keep you so occupied. It’ll be natural for them to want to see (read) what has kept you so captivated. You can fuel this by exclaiming how much you can’t wait to continue the book if you have to interrupt with dinner or other commitments.
• Choose topics your child is interested in, even if it’s Miley Cyrus’ biography. Textbooks or school reading books may not be the spark to ignite your child’s imagination. Your child may also not be interested in the classics you loved as a child. It doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they read. Age appropriate magazines (get a subscription addressed directly to your child) are also suitable. Collectibles such as ‘part series’ (science, the planets, animals, music/pop stars) are also very good and keep the child’s interest ongoing.
• Invite your child to read with you. “I think you’ll like this!” is a wonderful inducement to make the child feel special—something he or she can share with a parent makes the child feel important. Together you can enjoy the marvellous world contained within those pages. Your child will find your enthusiasm infectious. (You could even let them ‘help’ you with one or two words you might be struggling with.)
• Be innovative. For example, reading to each other or acting out the various characters’ parts will make it fun (children love acting), and if another parent or enthusiastic family members are the audience the ‘cast’ have to work hard to entertain. You could spend some time beforehand polishing your skills together, reading alternate paragraphs, or picking particular characters. This is a great moment to show off your Repertoire of Funny Voices as well. Make it more memorable by having a special dinner and getting your child to write out ‘invitations’ to the rest of the family.
Shared laughter is an incredibly bonding and uplifting experience. By now your child should start seeing reading as a fun experience. Later on they will develop their own tastes and read on their own. For parents interested in literacy issues, visit a great blog Parents and Kids Reading Together for tips, ideas and advice.