From Toddlers to Tears: Thoughts on Growing Bookworms - How to Grow a Bookworm
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From Toddlers to Tears: Thoughts on Growing Bookworms

A guest post by Michael Tingey primary school teacher, deputy head and dad of 2.

I’m not sure I have ever come across a toddler that doesn’t love books. They thrive under the positive attention they get from sitting and hearing stories with loved ones. These experiences provide them with moments of calm, times of great entertainment and opportunities to learn.

Yet, from my experience as a key stage 2 teacher, contrasting views towards reading are sadly quite prevalent. When teaching Y6s, I know of many children, particularly boys, that can think of nothing worse than sitting still and silent with a book. To motivate them with reading is a never ending challenge. So what goes wrong? What is happening to change children’s perceptions of books?  From my perspective, both home and school have lessons to learn.

Bed time reading is for life not just for toddlers!

Having had lovely experiences of hearing their parents reading wonderful stories with beautiful illustrations, when children start school, they are then subjected to uninspiring scheme books with very little storyline. “Sam runs in, Sam runs out, Tom runs in, Tom runs out.” Or something equally as trite. Don’t get me wrong, for an early reader, this is important as the books the children start to read do have to be pitched at their level. However, suddenly the quality time they were getting hearing books is now taken up with the painstakingly slow and the often stressful de-coding of words. Whereas before, all the attention was positive, now they can make mistakes. Whereas before the illustrations on books were colourful and interesting, now, the book in their hand was probably read by 500 other children over 20 years with a ripped corner, a fading picture and the wording on the spine barely legible.

Therefore, I believe it’s really important that children still have to have that time dedicated to hearing their parents and teachers read to them. With so much pressure on schools to cover the curriculum, often there is little time to stop everything and read. But, teachers need to invest this time into the incredibly busy schedules to simply down tools and read- it just has to be a priority to foster this love of reading.

I also believe schools should send home 2 books with their pupils, right up until upper KS2 when the children are more fluent readers. 1 book at the child’s level to read and another for families to share with the child so that, collectively and collaboratively, we can maintain the positive reading culture they had as a toddler.

Equally, parents have to ensure hearing their child read isn’t their child’s only exposure to books. It’s a challenge- don’t get me wrong- as working parents, to find the time to hear reading and then to also read to the child! But once again, if we’re trying to “grow book worms” and a lifelong love of learning, the bed time routine of reading to their children should be sustained right up until the child no longer wants mummy and daddy reading to them!

Early support and mixed groups.

Another issue that I believe changes children’s perspectives of reading is if they fall behind their reading age early on. Suddenly, their self-confidence is diminished. They see themselves on smaller books than their friends, or books with a different colour band on the side. It’s no secret that we all enjoy things more when we’re good at them! For this reason, I’m very much an advocate of mixed ability groupings for reading in school. In English, children learn so much from one another and if a child doesn’t see themselves as in “the bottom group”, that can only be a good thing.

Once they’re behind, it’s very much an up-hill struggle. As they get older, the books at the right challenge level do not inspire them as they are not pitched at their interest level. Like many upper KS2 teachers, I am constantly struggling to find books that are easy for the older children that find reading tough to follow but would interest them too. It’s no wonder when trying to get an 11 year old to read books aimed at 6 year olds, that they’re going to be put off reading.

Therefore, it’s so important for schools to work with families closely to prevent children falling behind in the younger years. If it’s not prioritised, pulling those children out of PE and Art in Y5 to do reading interventions will only end in resentment towards books.


Pick your own!

I was in the process of writing this section, when I read Sharon Turner’s blog, – I couldn’t agree more… When a 10 or 11 year old boy tells me that they don’t enjoy reading, I say to them- if I gave you “A Disney Princess” computer game will you enjoy playing it? The answer, in most cases, is no. So I say, does that mean you don’t like gaming? I then explain, if you choose the right book, you will enjoy it.

Choosing the right book is a challenge however, and this is a key reason I believe children get put off reading.  Too often, as parents and teachers, we pressure children to move to the next challenge of books. I remember my dad encouraging me to read The Hobbit as a 9 year old. I just wasn’t ready for it- and it still haunts me now. So much so that – I must confess – I still haven’t even watched The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings films let alone read them!

Equally, children do not want the stigma attached to reading easy books and will often pick books themselves that are too challenging because they look good reading a thick book with hundreds of pages. It’s usually the case, that they fail to follow the story line as they’re spending too much effort on decoding the words and as a result cannot enjoy the book.

I also remember, from my own primary school days, reading the first few pages of a book and stopping as it didn’t interest me. Time and time again, I was forced to carry on with it – “show resilience. Sometimes you have to read the first 10 chapters or so to really get into a book” they’d say. Urgh- it’s a wonder I ever read a book again!

If you start watching a film or programme on TV and it doesn’t interest you, you’d turn over, so why force children to carry on with a book they don’t enjoy?

As Sharon Turner said- “it takes time to pick the right book.” – – – My children are both under 3, and not yet reading themselves. I only hope that I practise what I preach- giving them time to pick the right book, supporting them so they don’t feel pressured to read until  they’re ready and reading to them until they no longer want their embarrassing dad around.


“…collectively and collaboratively, we can maintain the positive reading culture…”

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