Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Nurture a Love for Reading in Your Child - Special Tips, Ideas and Insights from the Expert (Part 1)

I recently had the privilege of meeting Ms Fiona Walker, the
Principal Director of Schools, Julia Gabriel Centre for Learning and Chiltern House, one of the most well-known preschools in Singapore. Julia Gabriel Centre has recently launcheda new book titled 'Rainbow Bear's Dinosaur Discovery: An Adventure in Blends and Digraphs'.

I invited Ms Walker to share with readers of this blog one of the topics she’s passionate about – instilling a love for reading in young children. Read on for some great tips and insights from this early childhood development expert!


Interview with Ms Fiona Walker

Q: How can parents instill in young children a love for reading?

A: The best way by far, to instill a love for reading is to read them; you can start when they are born.

For young children, it’s not really about the words or the text in the sense of the writing. It’s more about the sitting down and sharing a book together and engaging them with pictures and stories.

Words and text are not going to interest the very young ones. Until they are able to recognise the different shapes, colours and see patterns and differences in things, they are not going to have interest in the squiggles at the bottom of the page, they are going to be absolutely meaningless to them. 

Q: What types of books would you recommend for young children (2 years and below)?

A: Interactive books are great. When they are really little, it needs to be fun; they want to do something with the books so storytime can be interactive , such as a book where they can lift the flap, has different textures that they can touch or where there are buttons they could press that will make funny noises. At this stage, they are taking in information through their senses, so that’s going to be much more important to them rather than looking at the squiggles at the bottom of the page (i.e. the words).

Q: How do we move on to introduce story books and introduce children to the words/text?

A: Once they get a little bigger, they might start liking a special character, say Bob the Builder, or Dora, so you can look for story books about these characters.

As for words, usually children will start with learning how to spell their name, that’s normally the first word they learn. They will know their name begin with K, or R and then you can ask what else in the book begins with the letter K or R and keep relating to it. You’re drawing their attention to the text but you’re not making it into a reading exercise. Nothing’s going kill their interest in books and stories faster than turning the fun and enjoyment of reading together into a task or a lesson.

Q: How do we choose books that are suitable for our children?

A: Instead of thinking about reading as such, you should think instead of what’s their interest now, and match the books to their interest, as opposed to trying to match them to books you think they should be reading. So for example if your child is interested in cars, you can find books with wheels, then you can take a few minutes to flip through the book with him and then you put the book away while the excitement is still quite high, and he will go back to it.

The other thing is, don’t give up, children’s interests change all the time. I’ve been so upset that I’ve bought some books for my son and think they’re going to be so loved, but he showed no interest and I think that’s it, he doesn’t like them. But in two months’ time, he suddenly might be much more interested and come round to those books. 

Q: What kind of environment can we create to encourage the love of books and reading?

A: The easiest way to encourage a love of reading is to be a reader yourself. If you’re not so much a reader yourself but want to encourage your child to enjoy books, then you do have to make the effort to read to them.

Some children may be late bloomers in the reading department. Biologically, there’s so much that goes into learning to read, that it is accepted they will only have everything in place to be able to make sense of text until they are between 4 and 7 years old. In Singapore, our school system expects that to happen at the earlier rather than the later stage. This can put a lot of pressure on children and parents.

Another thing parents can do is to get the children to make books. Like if your child is into plants, then you can pick leaves together with him and let him make his own books. (Brilliant idea, why didn’t I think of that?)

Q: What may backfire in our efforts to nurture the love for reading?

A: I think to rush them in the development of the skills that are necessary for literacy can be to the detriment of them enjoying books. So when you’re reading them a story, it should be that you’re just reading a story to them and not half way through you say “Read this to me…  What does this word mean… Spell it out…” It shouldn’t be like that; don’t turn it into a task or lesson. Of course, there’s a time and place to teach learning how to read, but it should not be to the detriment of enjoying books.

Part 2 of this article will be published this coming Wednesday. There's also going to be a giveaway of TWO copies of Julia Gabriel's books! The details will be announced on Wednesday. See you!


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