Five ways to re-kindle the joy of reading in children.
As World Book Day sees school children everywhere dressing in their favourite character costume, the movement for celebration of words appears to be gaining momentum.
So how do we build on enthusiasm for reading and encourage children to relish the written word, in the face of film, game and TV temptations?
Just like New Year Resolutions, New Book Resolutions focus on one day in the year on which to renew our commitment to a beneficial discipline – in this case, the discipline of flexing the eye muscles across pages of print.
1. Bringing the Character to Life
Clearly, dressing in costume and playing out roles in the playground in unlikely battles between vikings and storm troopers is one great way to bring characters to life. But what stops our children from merely enacting scenes from the film version of the books we so dearly want them to read?
There’s no harm in children visually experimenting with character and watching film and TV is an easy way to engage in the story. But if we want them to transition in their commitment from Hollywood representation to the workings of their own imagination, there is more to do.
Perhaps we can challenge the film industry to build into each franchise a few habit-forming ways for encouraging audiences to pick up the book. For example, can they set up a reading league and have children earn points by demonstrating insider knowledge of the bits the film director left out?
2. Community Treasure Hunts
How about planting clues in locations around the school or neighbourhood which can only be solved by using the book version of popular stories, where the children know that their participation in the exercise is likely to lead to some reward and recognition. A few collectable stickers or cards could inspire friendly competition and ‘gamify’ the reading process.
3. Persuade Publishers to Grant Educational Performance Rights to Schools
If the rights allow, we could encourage children to record readings of their favourite books for the year below or the pre-school class. The pleasure of reading aloud can embrace theatre: add home-made costumes and the production becomes more engaging for everyone. Let the children produce the project with minimum supervision; teach them to film and edit each other’s work and boom – cross-curriculum peer-learning heaven.
4. Include More Non-Fiction Texts on the Reading List
The teenage son of a friend of mine has no time for reading any kind of fiction. Whenever family members tried to awaken his interest in books, he would recoil and seek refuge in a computer screen. That was until he came upon Ricky Gervais’ podcast. Now, hand him a book by a contemporary stand-up comedian and he’s as happy as Larry. When schools offer children the opportunity to pursue their wider interests in books, then reading becomes a genuine pleasure.
5. Help Children Discover New Ways to Read
From teaching Speed Reading to adults of all reading abilities – including having great success with those struggling with dyslexia – I could recommend a few techniques that would assist in making reading faster and more compelling. The faster we read, the more the brain is engaged and the less prone it is to distraction. Once the basics are handled in junior school then perhaps speed reading should be offered as a mark of graduation to a more advanced and adult style of learning.
The more we can treat our children with respect – acknowledge their interests, trust their intelligence and encourage their capabilities – the more inclined they will be to respond to what some of us love with a passion but must increasingly seem to them to be an old fashioned and carbon-costly delivery platform: the book.