Monday, 30 March 2015

How to grow bookworms. My response to, "How do you get your children to read?"

It never takes long in new company for me to be labelled a bookworm, and my book obsession has manifested in our two daughters. Rossetti age 7 (In Year 2 of Primary) and Beatrix who is nearly 3.

Stock photo from
It is with a mix of both intense pride and a smidge of social embarrassment that they explode into  jumping whoops of exaltation at the mention of going to the bookshop before exclaiming loudly (and a tad over-dramatically) that they LOVE the bookshop!!!!!

In the three years of school gating (yes, I've made it a verb) and parent wine nights, my past life as a secondary school English teacher and my new life as a full time author and English GCSE / A-Level tutor, has repeatedly led to me being cornered and having the following desperate pleas whispered into my ear,

"How do you get your children to read?"
"How do you enforce the school reader without a meltdown?"
"How have you got your kids so interested in books?"
"Do you think my child needs a tutor to help them catch up? Do you tutor primary?"

It's at this point, I shuffle uncomfortably. You see, the image they have is that I sit with my children night after night, dutifully enforcing our 20minute recommended school reader before filling out the reading journal with detailed National Curriculum assessment speak. They imagine that my girls are subject to their own personal English tutor and therefore, no wonder they must be 'excelling' in their reading.

But all of those assumptions are rubbish; including the 'excelling' part - because after all how is it really measurable? (Despite incredibly complicated government matrixes that try to give the belief that it is.) The truth is, what I do to get and enforce my children to read is NOTHING.

In fact, we go for weeks and weeks and weeks without ever getting the school reader out of the school bag. The reading journal is filled in sporadically; perhaps an entry every three or so months: In fact we're still only on our second journal (when most others are on their fourth) and that's only because we lost one.

  1. We ignored the school's insistence on phonic decoding of sounds, and waited patiently for sight reading to flourish, knowing in our hearts that decoding is NOT reading. (There's a full blog post coming on this soon)

  2. We paid no attention to our daughter's reading level in Reception and Year 1 or Year 2 except to celebrate and encourage when she went up a level (because she'd been made to believe it mattered and we love a celebration in our house.)

  3. We reassured Rossetti repeatedly in her moments of tearful frustration that the reading would come and told her she mustn't force it. We told her to leave it and go and play for a while.

  4. We didn't over-correct her when she misread a word. We let her get to the end of the sentence and figure that out for herself; there was usually chocolate minstrels around or biscuits and hot-chocolate, because when you're starting to read, it takes a lot of energy.

  5. If she wanted to read her school reader and do a 'formal' reading session, we always made the time - even though I'd rather spoon out my own eyeballs.

  6. We take our children in to the bookshop at every opportunity - and when funds are tight, this means the FARA charity bookstore, where you can pick up a children's book for little more than a bar of chocolate or a soft drink. There's also the amazing facility of the library - but there is something about the total possession of a book that makes it even more special, especially if you want them to access their own home library on a whim.

  7.  We allow them to choose free reign in the children's section, without interference, any book they take a fancy to, whether that is fiction, non-fiction, comic books, or in Rossetti's case, a science book. (The girl is crazy about science and apparently unicorns are "scientifically improbable!" - a hard thing for a fairy tale writing mummy to accept. )

  8. We constantly challenge comments about gendered books and give sadly required 'permission' for my daughters to select what they want to read rather than what they believe they 'should'.

  9. We provide huge book baskets for their rooms, which sit alongside their toy box - and when they get full, we get another. There is no notion of 'Too Many Books'.

  10. We fill our days with telling stories, writing them, and drawing them. We watch films and T.V and talk about characters, and allegory, and symbolism. We snigger naughtily at rude words and high five 'big' words - we value the idea of stories and why we need them in all forms.

  11. Our home is full of books and they see us reading in bed, on the bus, in the park, in the cafe - it's just what we do. It's now just what they do. How do you expect your child to see the value of reading when you don't model it yourself?
Rossetti is not the 'best' reader in her class, in that she has not yet attained her longed for goal of being a FREE READER, like some of the other kids. But at home A FREE READER is exactly what she and her sister are - and what they've always been.


  1. The 'reading guidelines' for schools enrages me. I was told that when tested my 7y daughter was the lowest in the class. I decided to hold a meeting on this matter with the head and teacher, I armed myself with samples of books she reads at home including her Hans Christian Anderson book and Grimm's fairytales (which she reads both flawless) I asked to see the book my daughter was tested on and to my horror it was the same book my 4y has in his book box at home! His explanation was she didn't understand the storyline. What storyline? Its 5 pages long! I went on the randomly pik a story from her Grimm book to which she explained the whole plot of the story, proving she understood what she was reading. I went on to inform them that not only do I read with all 3 off my children for 20 mins every night I then allow them extra 10 mins. Plus we do 10mins quiet reading after school every day (giving a break from tv programs and games) I then showed them her note book at the beautiful stories she has written stories she took inspiration from her Grimm books but are her own take on the stories. Shocked the head teacher then sent my daughter out the room and informed me the problem is 'Phonics and guidelines' but they would re test her at a reading level suitable for her. To which she passed! Days after she came home upset and for a week would not read when I asked her what was wrong she explained that while visiting the school library her teacher wouldn't let her have the book she wanted because it was too difficult! Meeting after meeting and now she has a different teacher who reads from her favourite books and lets her bring in her writing work and reads it. But also the school now allow the children two guideline reading books a week but also a book of their choice from the library for free reading. I always thought I was doing the right thing allowing my children to read what they want and having one to one reading time but I was made to look like I didn't do any reading with them by the teacher (who had only been there months. Any other teacher at the school knows I work hard with my children's education and any extra help they need I work at home with them)

    1. It's a total battle field out there. It's part of the reason I left the teaching profession. The requirements that are being set by government are not intuitive with actually how children learn to read or how literature works. There is such an emphasis on levelling and grading that the educations system has seriously lost sight of what it is they are actually trying to measure. It's like they came up with this terribly impressive system to measure the size of bananas but they want to use it for apples. It's just all a total mess. We need to get back to the basics.

      In the first three years of secondary school, our children studied and read one complete book (even then, with the lower or higher groups who work slower on novels - we often had to abandon it) and then they did a Shakespeare play (which was often taught in extracts) The VAST majority of English lang and lit came down to the study of non-fiction texts, and functional skills; making people good fodder for the office.