Dirk Foch, Managing Director of educational software company Renaissance Learning gives his insight into how the holidays can offer the perfect opportunity for parents to help their children improve their reading. 

Parenting on Female First

Parenting on Female First

Dirk said: “Reading is a skill, and like any other skill it needs continual practice to develop. This can be done through daily reading practice, and what better time than the festive season when families are together? It may be clichéd to say it, but reading is not just for Christmas - it really is the gift that keeps on giving.

"When reading skills are developed, so too is comprehension, which in turn enables pupils to access and engage with all subjects. Through nurturing the skill of reading there are numerous benefits to overall academic achievement.”

The importance of reading at home cannot be stressed enough, not just for academic development but as a life skill. In fact, the amount of reading done outside school in a child’s formative years is a statistically significant predictor of their critical thinking skills and can even be attributed to having increased self-esteem.

This is particularly important as mispronunciation and having to start and stop frequently when reading aloud can seriously undermine a child’s confidence.

Here are some hints and tips to get you and your child started over the festive season:

1. Read with your child every day, without fail. Although they will probably be slightly distracted by Santa’s impending arrival, the importance of storytelling should not be underestimated. There are so many wonderful Christmas stories to choose from that reading can only add to the magic of Christmas for your child.

2. Try reading with your child in different situations and at different times of the day – you may find they are more receptive in different scenarios. The Night Before Christmas by Clement c Moore is a great festive bedtime story, but Christmas morning may not as suitable a time to read – however, choosing a title that’s relevant to the time of year can be magical way of engaging children.

3. Talk to your child, even in the early days. It may sound obvious but this helps develop their language skills which in turn helps with reading.

4. Although you’ll inevitably be busy over Christmas, try to let them see you reading for pleasure – children learn from the actions and behaviours of their parents. If they see you reading, they will see it as a positive thing rather than a chore or ‘boring’ homework.

5. Discuss books with your child; what’s their favourite character? Which bit did they like the best? Did they enjoy the ending? If not, why? Sparking interaction around the book they are reading will encourage them to continue.

6. Make reading materials such as books, magazines and comics easily accessible for your child to read and empower them to choose their own books so they feel enthusiastic about it from the off. Research from the National Literacy Trust shows that some young children are more likely to own a mobile phone than a book. Christmas is the ideal chance to stock up the bookshelves by giving your children new and exciting titles to get stuck into.

7. Listen to your child reading – although it’s easy to be thinking of the next thing on the to-do list, especially at such a busy time – make a conscious effort to really listen so that you can keep an eye on their speech development which is linked to reading. Ensure they are pronouncing words correctly and using intonation correctly, for example when characters are speaking.

8.  Involve other family members – visiting relatives such as grandparents will no doubt jump at the chance to read with little ones, and often even older children enjoy having that one-on-one time with family they don’t see that often.

9. Use storybook pictures as a tool – ask your child what they think is happening in their favourite Christmas books so they can relate the words to the pictures.

10. Find new ways to keep reading fun; try to use your imagination. Reading doesn’t have to be just books – can they read the credits on their favourite Christmas film, or the words to a Christmas song or carol? Who is that Christmas card or gift from? The internet is a great resource for new ideas if you get stuck – but most important of all, don’t nag as it will only lead to your child resenting reading.

*The findings released in November 2012 revealed that the average reading age of GCSE pupils in the UK is 10 years and seven months. Research was based on over 24,500 year 10 and 11 pupils across the UK. To read the full story, click here

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