Fostering the Next Generation of Readers and Writers
Reading is often seen as the key for success in the subject of English. ‘The earlier the better’ is the cry of many parents, as they eagerly usher their little darling towards genius with an army of ‘educational’ toys, games, TV programmes and books. But does the literate preschooler turn into the book-loving adult with creative writing talent to burn? Not necessarily. What is important is not that children are reading young, but that they develop a love of story-telling. Reading aloud is the way to foster this, not pushing your child to read. If children develop negative emotions associated with books and reading they are not going to turn into book-lovers. Reading should be a delight, not a chore. Rewards for reading may seem a good idea, but does it really foster the feeling ‘story books are good’? Few children get rewards for eating chocolate or watching a Disney film—more likely these things are the reward! If you read aloud regularly to your child, and model the behaviour by reading and loving books yourself, your child will eventually want to read and will need no pushing to read.
But it is not just any book that will foster a love of reading. Choose your child’s books carefully. The idea that children love the gross, the nasty and the slap-stick funny is well established. But do they really? I never liked that sort of thing as a child. Children’s entertainers? Hated them. Clowns? Nope. A lot of the time it is adults who tell children ‘kids like this stuff’ and the children will go along with it. Don’t assume.
One thing almost all children do like is magic and wonder. Fairytales are perennial favourites and you can’t go wrong with them. Tales of magical and supernatural creatures can be excellent choices too. My two most favourite books were (and still are!) The Little Troll by Thomas Berger and Peter William Butterblow and other Little Folk by CJ Moore. The feeling that those books of magic, beauty and wonder gave still lives with me. It is like a little nugget of gold that will always be part of me and will always be a source of warmth, magic and happiness. For the slightly older child, classics like The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Hobbit by Tolkien, Little Women by Alcott, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books are among the best. Remember that books are not things your child will just read dispassionately. They will imprint themselves upon your child and influence his or her thoughts, feeling and behaviour. Make sure this influence will be a good one. Books where people are going around being mean and catty are going to make your child act that way.
And lastly, the one single most important thing you can do to turn your child into a reader and writer: no television. Television is easy, addictive and entertaining. Every minute a young child spends watching television is a wasted one. Research has shown that is does little to develop language skills, and shortens attention spans. The same goes for computer games and video games. There are no real benefits to young children gained by watching television or gaming. Switch it off and get a good book.