Why is reading important for children? No doubt, you can think of dozens of reasons why it is such an important life skill, from texting to job prospecting (and if you think it isn’t you might want to reconsider your choice of career!).
Even in this internet age, you need reading skills to be able to access and enjoy the vast majority of online content.
Like learning any new skill, it’s those first steps in early childhood that are so crucial… those moments when you’re finding it hard and are tempted to give up.
It is our responsibility as educators to help younger children get over those early hurdles and build up the literacy skills and the momentum that will self-propel their life-long reading development – because we never stop expanding our reading skills.
So here are some ideas to get children reading … really reading. And they’re only a little bit sneaky.
Inspiration for children reading books
Enjoyment is the greatest motivation and you are an important influence, so make reading seem like a fun activity. Share that you are a reader, that you indulge in reading for pleasure regularly out of choice. Also, exude excitement when talking about books. Just don’t be too weird about it.
Book reviews – peer reviews
Don’t be offended, but if anyone has a greater influence over pupils than their teacher, it’s their classmates. If one of their friends thinks a story book or graphic novel is great, you can bet that others will agree. You could hope for enthusiasm to spread by word of mouth. However, it might be more reliable to use book reviews.
If you get your pupils to write book reviews and display them, they will soon be reading what another child has to say about their reading experience. If they can see that their friends are rating books highly, there is a good chance that they will want to read them too. Even a reluctant reader might be tempted.
Of course, you want the reviews themselves to look exciting, which is why we have created some attractive book review templates for you to use for Key Stage 1, Lower Key Stage 2 and Upper Key Stage 2.
As an added bonus, the same resource pack includes “Fantastic Reads!” bookmarks on which pupils can write mini recommendations. These can then be slipped into the book before returning them to the class collection or school library as a very visible attention grabber.
Children’s book choice – vary the reading material
Make sure your school provides a good range of books for children to enjoy – fiction and non fiction, and not just whatever is available through your reading scheme. Sadly, fewer and fewer families have easy access to good public libraries and many parents view children’s books as an investment they are unable or unwilling to make. Like it or not, it seems that it is now up to schools to plug that gap.
Even so, it is important to remember that choice is a gateway to engagement – their choice, not yours! You might feel you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of quality children’s literature, but your biases might be more of an influence than you think, so try to let the pupils have some input into the selection.
What’s more, if you are trying to make reading a self-driven activity, you might have to view some genres from a different perspective. After all, grown-ups are allowed to choose whether they read Pride and Prejudice or Bravo Two Zero. Why can’t children make a comparable choice?
Anyway, most books have been through a fairly rigorous quality control process before being published so you don’t have to worry too much if they’re not quite your thing.
Go deep – book reading and comprehension
Just because the teaching of reading focuses on a number of official assessment criteria, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use reading comprehension exercises to stimulate enjoyment in reading. Find texts that you can really delve into and discuss with genuine enthusiasm. As well as talking about things like inference, vocabulary in context and language choices, make time to explore what they enjoyed about the extract and recommend texts with a similar theme.
Fortunately, there are some great resources out there that drill down into texts that could really excite your pupils. For example, there’s our reading comprehension resource that focuses on the thrilling story of Beowulf. Not only does it provide carefully targeted questions but it also acts as a stimulus for pupils to write their own Anglo-Saxon legends.
Classic children’s literacy
If you want to broaden your pupils’ reading horizons, try introducing them to carefully selected extracts from classic children’s literature. After all, there’s a reason why these stories are so enduring. What’s more, pupils usually already have some familiarity with the plot or characters because they pop-up so frequently in modern culture. Is there anyone who does not have some frame of reference for pirates as originally portrayed in Treasure Island, for example?
For a ready-made introduction to tales that have stood the test of time, try our classic literature reading resource pack. This exercises key reading skills through extracts from The Wizard of Oz, Five Children and It and The Wind in the Willows.
Helping children to read – switch off devices
If you’re feeling bold, try enlisting the help of parents. Research has shown the importance of switching off electronic devices at least an hour before we go to sleep. Why not try to encourage a school-wide culture of improving sleep by filling that last hour with reading for pleasure?
Popular children’s books
If nothing else, point pupils towards titles or authors that have a proven track record of engaging young readers. There’s a reason why Roald Dahl, David Walliams and JK Rowling are so popular, or why the Hunger Games and Wimpy Kid books fly off the shelves.
You stand at the doorway to a wonderful world of gripping tales and colourful characters. Open it as wide as you can and another generation of happy readers will walk through. They might even thank you for it, one way or another.