If there’s one thing I cherish from my own childhood, it’s reading. I would shut myself away in my bedroom and devour books. Reading transported me to other places and times, it was powerful and moving. For a small child without a lot of independence or agency, that’s a big thing.
I attribute my love of reading to many successes beyond my primary school years. It helped me do well at school, which led to greater skills in communication and a life-long love of expressing myself through words.
Now my daughter is learning to read, and the experience is excruciating.
I feel terrible writing that, but it’s true. I want my kids to love reading like I did, but learning to read, like learning any new language, is hard. And it’s not just hard because it’s the first time she’s doing it, it’s hard because we just don’t have the time.
My daughter gets readers sent home with her and it’s our job (as parents) to read them with her.
Jaquelyn Muller is a children’s book author and literacy advocate, and she says it’s important for parents to read with their children.
“A class teacher has so many children to consider that some challenges the child may be having, may not get identified as quickly. For example if a child is needs glasses or additional reading support in the classroom, a parent will potentially pick this up quicker through reading activities at home”.
The ideal place to read with a child would have to be in a quiet room, with a clean desk, and possibly a glass of milk for her and a nice cup of tea for me.
Yes. We all know what the ideal looks like compared to the reality.
Here’s my reality: arrive home at 5pm resembling a pack horse that has just conquered the Pyrenees. Get in the door just as bags cascade off my back/ arms/ head onto the kitchen floor. Put dinner on while the kids start their special chorus of “I’m hungry”, “he hit/ bit/ scratched me”, “can I have a hot chocolate?” on rotation, interspersed with tears and a few tantrums. I’m too scared to leave the stove to do the reader with my daughter in case my 3 year old manages to set fire to the house.
Perhaps they will be more quiet tomorrow morning?
Yes, I hear you laughing from here.
The following morning I attempt to sit down with my 5 year old to do the reader. We are both in our pyjamas (which also means we’re already running late) as my daughter starts to read, my son climbs over my head, sticking his foot in my coffee.
We get the reader done, but it’s interrupted several times by her little brother, and we’re in a panic to get to school and day care on time.
Jaquelyn Muller suggests that working parents could do reading homework after dinner at night, and a bit before the child goes to bed. At that time, the chaos has settled and both parent and child will feel more relaxed. This technique can also work when younger siblings are interrupting reading time- just pop them in to bed first and spend alone time with your child reading.
“The other thing to remember is that this is only for a short time. Soon enough kids are doing homework independently so when you think about it in those terms it is only 10 – 15 minutes every week night for a few years”.
Of course, life with children doesn’t always go according to plan, and Jaquelyn says that we need to accept that reading homework won’t always get done. “Achieving reading time at home more often than not should be the goal, not a perfect record”.
I want my children to have the same love and passion for words that I have, not because I want them to grow up to be the next J.K Rowling, or even to be top of their class, but because I want them to know the magic of literature, the comfort of a good book in dark times, and to let their imaginations roam free, the way that only young brains can before the cynicism of the world curtails it.
Jaquelyn’s tips make me feel like there’s hope to find moments of calm where my daughter can learn to read with the patience, kindness and positive attitude she needs from me.
Who knows? Perhaps in the process I’ll start to enjoy it too.