Saturday, 2 October 2010

Help for reluctant readers - shove that in your cakehole

Helping your child to read - the Coffee House way

This week the Eldest Latte finished Spacehop, the libraries' summer reading challenge. You read six books, and are rewarded throughout with little gifts - stickers for a poster, a rainbow pencil, a medal.

The event was celebrated with a mother-and-daughter trip to the cupcake shop, where I managed to get the above speedy picture before the Ugly Slice was destroyed.

Eldest has been a reluctant reader, and it's no surprise. Anything that makes reading harder is going to be a barrier to enthusiasm. Her cerebral palsy has made optical fixing and tracking difficult; she also needs a bigger text size.

Our breakthrough came in the form of Readalong Audiobooks from the library (no link is to be found, sadly), which consist of a large print children's novel and an unabridged audiobook. This is like a reading boot camp - once the child is packed into bed with the CD running there is nothing she can do but try to keep up, no daydreaming allowed. These audiobooks have been fantastic in encouraging Eldest to concentrate for longer and get the idea that perseverance is rewarded with a good story.

Other strategies we have used to encourage reading are:
  • Following her interest. An obsession with The Worst Witch on TV led to a boxed set of books on her birthday - the characters were familiar, and some of the stories were too. It's easy to fall into the trap of choosing your children's books according to your own taste. Eldest likes history - it has always bored me. Shopping at a second hand book fair she spotted a big fat book about world history: I had to make myself step away from the lovely children's novels and hastily assemble my delighted face.

  • Introducing 'celebrity' writers - we listened to the audiobook of Jenny Nimmo's Midnight for Charlie Bone on holiday - we were all entranced. Eldest came home and scoured the library for Jenny Nimmo. It has made her trips to the library more focused, and filled with more 'I've found it!' delight. Finding out about a children's event with Anne Fine in Preston in October has sparked a similar interest. Both authors write a range of books for different ages of children, so there different levels for her to choose from.

  • Keeping it simple - I don't pick anything that looks too challenging. If she chooses something she can't manage, it just quietly goes back to the library in my bag. Being able to get through a book easily in a couple of hours gives her confidence. Her intelligence will eventually lead her to the more advanced books - I'm not going to be the one to do it. 

  • Being sneaky. I read recently that Lemony Snicket's parents would read to an exciting part of a story, then leave his bedroom telling him to go straight to sleep. They would leave behind a strategically placed torch. When Eldest picks up the Big Boring Book of Bl**dy History at night, I wag my finger and tell her not to stay up all night reading. And then I close her door behind me. My sister-in-law claims her son's interest in reading increased massively when she started loudly expressing her disgust for his Captain Underpants books. 
  • Reading myself. Children see us check emails, watch television, wipe down kitchen surfaces - how often do they see us reading? If sitting on a comfy sofa and reading a book is setting a good example, then I'm all for it.

This post seems a good time do what Natasha asked and mention Booktime. This autumn, 680,000 copies of Eric Carle’s “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth will be given free to all children starting reception class in England. Booktime are also running a prize draw for an exclusive artist’s proof from the book. To nominate a UK primary school or public library to win, go to

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